Activists and human rights groups in France have accused police of violence and abuse against protesters opposing the pension reforms that President, Emmanuel Macron, has attempted to force through without a vote.
A viral video showed an officer in Paris apparently rolling the wheel of a motorcycle over the leg of 19-year-old student, Valentin Peguy, who claimed police kicked him when he was on the ground and “used his bike as a weapon”. He and his friends were fleeing tear gas used at Place de La Republique during a 21 March protest, when Mr Peguy fell as police gave chase.
In the footage published by the French alternative media outlet Revolution Permanente, police then appear to haul Mr Peguy up by his collar and push him against a tree.
The Paris police prefecture said in a statement to the i that the video shows two bikes either side of Mr Peguy and that he was not touched. They said that Mr Peguy and his friends were throwing projectiles at the police, which the demonstrators deny. Mr Peguy’s hospital records seen by i indicate he was the victim of “aggression by police” and that he had a haematoma 56cm long and 3cm wide on his leg.
Amnesty International France condemned the use of “excessive force”, “abusive arrests” and “abusive” use of crowd control weaponry such as tear gas and flashballs (rubber bullets). The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, said that even if protesters “engaged in sporadic acts of violence” that does not “justify excessive force”. Other human rights groups in France have issued similar statements.
Another video from French outlet Loopsider appears to show officers from the special Brav-M motorbike unit acting aggressively towards journalist Amar Taoualit on 16 March, spraying tear gas in his face as he tried to report.
Acts such as these by Brav-M (Motorised Brigades for the Repression of Violent Action) have prompted MPs from the left-wing La France Insoumise party to call for the dissolution of the unit. LFI MP Alma Dufour tweeted a petition for the unit’s dissolution and said: “I was targeted by a rubber bullet by the Brav during the yellow vest protests. We refuse to let them sow terror in our country.”
Protesters and bystanders also complain of being subject to arbitrary arrests. Etienne Lefebvre, 20, said he was wearing a helmet identifying him as a photographer on 16 March and taking photos of the protests when he was caught in a police kettle. He claimed police arrested the whole street he was on, including a jogger, and he was held in custody for 21 hours despite repeatedly explaining he was a photographer. He said “five of us were in a five-metre square cell[…] it was humiliating being held in such a small space with no power to leave”. Mr Lefebvre is now part of a campaign against arbitrary arrests. Paris police did not comment on their use of arrests during protests.
Yohan Lange, a worker at the Douai Renault plant, came to Paris on 23 March to protest. Mr Lange said he was trying to tell riot police who blocking the street to let them through when a policeman told him to shut up, so he replied in kind telling him to shut up, too. He said he was then hit on the head with a baton by one of the policeman’s colleagues.
The moment was caught on video and photos show Mr Lange covered in blood as he walked away from the scene. He has a six-inch gash on his head and 12 metal stitches.
He said he has been off work for one week and will probably remain off for another week. Mr Lange, who has made an official complaint against the police, claims he has been suffering from insomnia and nightmares since. He said police “hate the people”, adding: “The protests are massive across the country and we will not stop.”
Police violence against protesters has become a hot topic again in France due to recent protests and the memory of the yellow vests protests when several people were blinded and had limbs blown off by police grenades.
Two protesters from the rallies over a planned reservoir in Sainte-Soline last week remain in a coma.
Interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, said on Monday that 17 inquests into police violence had been opened.