The complaint accuses unidentified police officers – who are tasked by the state with protecting lives and property – with deliberate violence against media personnel and damage to their property.
The plaintiffs say that, while covering protests in Paris, Lille, Toulouse, La Rochelle and other cities, they were subjected to violence although they were perfectly identifiable as journalists by their helmets and press armbands, did not obstruct the police, were often at some distance from the protesters and in some cases even introduced themselves to the police on arriving at the protest.
Photographer Xavier Léoty had to spend 45 days off work after a flashball round fired by a police officer fractured his knee while he was covering a protest in La Rochelle on 12 January 2019. Freelance photographer Jean-Claude Moschetti suffered a partial loss of vision for several days after a teargas grenade struck his eye while he was covering a protest in Rennes on 19 January 2019.
Most of the journalists say they were deliberately targeted. They include Adrien Lévy-Cariès, a photographer who had bruises for days after the police hit him several times with their batons while intervening in a Burger King restaurant near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on 1 December 2018. A teargas grenade was fired at Frédéric Scheiber in Toulouse on 20 April 2019 and then a riot police officer sprayed him with gas full in the face for no reason.
“We are filing this complaint today so that these cases of violence are punished and those responsible are put on trial and convicted, but also to get the authorities to carry out a complete overhaul of the way protests are policed, so that journalists are no longer targeted by police officers responsible for maintaining order,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“The public wants to be informed about protests and journalists have duty to report what is happening on the ground. It is therefore unacceptable that they should be the victims of violence by members of the police when they are just doing their job.”
Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer with the Vigo lawfirm who is representing the 13 journalists and RSF, added: “Reporters and photographers have been subjected to violence and in some cases injured while they were doing their job but the judicial authorities don’t seem to care and this is unacceptable. The freedom to inform must be protected and the judicial system must act with the utmost speed to protect the use of this fundamental freedom.”
Despite RSF’s repeated appeals to the police to respect press freedom’s basic rules, the situation does not seem to have improved and police violence has not let up. The first day of protests against the government’s pension reform plans two weeks ago, on 5 December, was accompanied by an extremely high level of violence against media personnel. One journalist, Anadolu Agency photographer Mustafa Yalcin, was badly injured by a stingball grenade although wearing protective headgear, and will probably lose the use of an eye.
During the first six months of the “gilets jaunes” protests, RSF registered 54 cases of journalists being injured by police officers – 12 of them seriously – in a total of 120 incidents.
RSF has sounded the alarm about police violence in France in the past, including in July 2017, when it asked the French ombudsman to investigate ten cases of journalists who had been subjected to unwarranted violence by the security forces while covering protests.
The issue of police violence against the media during “gilets jaunes” protests was also raised by RSF on 3 May 2019 with the President Macron, who promised that “action will be taken.” At a meeting with interior minister Christophe Castaner on 18 June, RSF requested concrete measures and submitted its recommendations for policing protests.
France is ranked 32nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
The 13 journalists:
Pierre Angelergues, reporter
Valentin Belleville, reporter and photographer
François Guénet, photographer
Kevin Figuier, photo-journalist and editor
Lucas Léger, reporter
Xavier Léoty, reporter
Adrien Lévy-Cariès, photographer
Thomas Morel-Fort, photo-journalist
Jean-Claude Moschetti, photographer
Gabriel Pacheco, photo-journalist
Frédéric Scheiber, photo-journalist
Carine Schmitt, photographer
Johan Van Hasselt, photographer