French ex-minister faces legal complaint over death of 80-year-old struck by police grenade



Algerian national Zineb Redouane died shortly after she was struck by a tear gas grenade in her apartment in Marseille. Two years after her tragic death, relatives have filed a legal complaint against former interior minister Christophe Castaner for “concealing evidence” while investigative journalists have challenged the findings of a ballistic report that cleared officers of wrongdoing.

On December 2, 2018, 80-year-old Zineb Redouane died on an operating table at La Conception hospital in Marseille, hours after she was struck by a tear gas grenade fired into her apartment by riot police.

Redouane, an Algerian national, was standing at the window of her fourth-floor apartment in central Marseille when the canister struck her in the face. Relatives said she was trying to shut her shutters amid the chaos of clashes between police and “Yellow Vest” anti-government protesters in her street.

Two years on, her daughter Milfed Redouane has filed a legal complaint at the Cour de justice de la République (CJR), a special court established to try cases of ministerial misconduct. The complaint targets Christophe Castaner, the interior minister at the time, whose statements in the wake of Redouane’s death sought to clear the police of all responsibility.

Yassine Bouzrou, a lawyer for Redouane’s daughter, has repeatedly accused the former minister and other senior officials of obstruction of justice. The complaint before the CJR  – a rare occurence in France – takes matters a step further, formally accusing Castaner of “concealing and interfering with evidence”.

‘We must stop this talk of police violence’

Redouane’s tragic death came at the height of the Yellow Vest protest movement and its violent repression, which cast a stark light on the fearsome weapons used by riot police in France. It struck a city already gripped by anger and sorrow, coming just weeks after eight people – most  of immigrant background – were killed in the collapse of several dilapidated buildings a few streets away. 

Like other tragic incidents, it has become symbolic of what many in France regard as an institutional reluctance to investigate cases of police violence and acknowledge responsibility. Two years on, an investigation into Redouane’s death is still ongoing, and no officer has been charged or suspended over the fatal incident – a fact Bouzrou blames on decisions and statements made throughout the chain of command, leading all the way up to Castaner. 

In the months following the fatal incident, Castaner, who now heads the ruling LREM party in France’s lower house of parliament, repeatedly claimed that Redouane’s death by cardiac arrest had no link with the police grenade.

“I will not let it be said that the police killed Zineb Redouane, because that is false,” he told France Inter radio on March 19, 2019. “We must stop this talk of police violence,” Castaner added, echoing President Emmanuel Macron’s claim, made earlier in the month, that “the words ‘police violence’ are unacceptable under the rule of law”.

>> Policing without consent: Why French police are ill-equipped to ‘reconquer’ Paris suburbs

In his defence, Castaner’s office said the former minister was merely repeating statements made by Marseille’s public prosecutor, Xavier Tarabeux, who has since been transferred to a different post. A day after Redouane’s death, Tarabeux said an autopsy had established that “facial shock” was not the cause of death. He added: “At this stage, no link can be established between the injury and her death.”

Since then, Redouane’s family has obtained the transfer of the investigation to another jurisdiction, arguing that the presence of one of Tarabeux’s deputies at the scene of the incident, in the company of police, compromised the probe’s impartiality. 

In a series of complaints, Bouzrou has also accused police of concealing crucial evidence, including withholding the rifle grenade launchers used on the night of the fatal incident. He has contested claims by the Inspection Générale de la Police Nationale (IGPN), a police monitoring body, that the surveillance camera located in front of Redouan’s building was “inoperative” that night. 

Interviewed by the IGPN in the wake of Redouane’s death, all five officers who were using rifle grenade launchers in the area that day denied involvement.

Counter-investigation

The complaint before the CJR comes as France’s government has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn on its controversial plans to restrict the sharing of images of police on social media – a practise that has helped expose numerous cases of police misconduct in recent years. Media organisations and human rights watchdogs have warned that the plans would embolden officers to challenge anyone who films them.

In interviews with French media, Milfet Redouane has said she was on the phone with her mother when the latter was struck by the tear gas canister. She said her mother screamed that she had been targeted by police, suggesting that officers may have thought her mother was filming them from her window.

In June of this year, French daily Le Monde reported that a 73-page ballistics report penned by a police officer and a medical examiner had cleared officers of responsibility in Redouane’s death. The report, which relied on footage from other nearby surveillance cameras, concluded that the tear gas grenade was fired “in accordance with rules of engagement”.

Already disputed by Bouzrou, the report’s findings were categorically rejected on Monday in a separate study by the investigative website Disclose and the UK-based agency Forensic Architecture, which uses 3D-modelling to probe cases of state violence and human rights violations.

Their counter-investigation argued that “the presence of several buildings directly in front of the shooting officer should, at the very least, have constituted a red alert.” It noted that the Cougar-type launcher used in the incident has a range of approximately 100 metres and that the projectile struck Redouane “after 37 metres”, while it was still ascending, “collapsing” the right part of her face and causing her to inhale large quantities of tear gas.

“According to our investigation, the responsibility of the shooter and his supervisor in the death of Zineb Redouane is clear,” the study concluded. 

Magistrates in Lyon, who are now in charge of the investigation, are yet to rule on the findings of the official ballistic report.



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Azerbaijani forces enter Lachin, last district handed over by Armenia



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Azerbaijani forces on Tuesday moved into the final district given up by Armenia in a peace deal that ended weeks of fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Azerbaijan‘s defence ministry released a video showing a tank flying an Azerbaijani flag leading a column of trucks into the Lachin district.

AFP journalists in Lachin town saw a column of Azerbaijani trucks flanked by military vehicles from Russia, which brokered the peace settlement.

Armenia agreed to hand over three districts around Karabakh — Aghdam, Lachin and Kalbajar — as part of the deal that stopped an Azerbaijani offensive that had reclaimed swathes of territory lost to Armenian separatists in a 1990s war.

Like in Aghdam and Kalbajar, residents of Lachin cleared out frantically ahead of the handover, taking livestock, firewood, furniture and even plastic water pipes.

Some residents have burnt their homes as they left, and on Monday evening two houses on the outskirts of Lachin town were in flames.

Local official Davit Davtyan said residents had been given until 6:00 pm to leave, except those allowed to stay along the Lachin corridor that runs to Armenia’s border.

‘Nowhere to go’

The peace deal saw some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers deployed between the two sides and along the corridor, a 60-kilometre (35-mile) route through Lachin that connects Karabakh’s main city Stepanakert to Armenia.

The column of a dozen Azerbaijani military trucks was moving slowly overnight along the corridor in the direction of the Armenian border, with Russian military vehicles at the head and rear.

Davtyan said some 200 people would be allowed to stay to maintain local infrastructure.

“Residents who were not able to leave because they had nowhere to go said they would stay and see what happens on Tuesday,” he said.

Nagorno-Karabakh broke from Azerbaijan’s control in a war after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union that left some 30,000 dead.

The region declared independence but it was never recognised by any country, including Armenia which strongly backs the separatists.

The peace accord signed on November 9 was reached after six weeks of fighting that saw Azerbaijan’s army overwhelm separatists forces and threaten to advance on Stepanakert.

Under the agreement, Armenia is losing control of seven districts that it seized around Karabakh in the 1990s — many Azerbaijanis who were forced to flee are now planning to return.

The separatists are retaining control over most of Karabakh’s Soviet-era territory but have lost the key town of Shusha.

While some Armenians have been fleeing the districts ceded to Azerbaijan, others in Lachin had nowhere to go.

In the village of Aghavno along the Lachin corridor, 60-year-old Araksya Gyokchakyan watched residents load furniture and firewood into cars and trucks even as she was set on remaining behind.

“I don’t know where to go. I stayed here during the war. It’s my home,” she told AFP.

Meanwhile other Armenians have been returning to Karabakh itself.

Russia’s defence ministry, which is helping with the returns, said on Monday that more than 25,000 people who fled the fighting had been brought back.

Russia’s role grows

Moscow’s peacemaker role has overshadowed France and the United States — the three countries that form the Minsk Group, which led talks on the Karabakh conflict for decades but failed to achieve a lasting agreement.

France’s position in future negotiations may be further under threat after Azerbaijani lawmakers last week demanded the country be expelled from the Minsk Group.

The move came after the French Senate adopted a non-binding resolution calling on France to recognise Karabakh as an independent state.

Azerbaijan has also called for its staunch ally Turkey to play a role in the peacekeeping mission, but Moscow insists Ankara will not be involved.

Since the announcement of the peace deal — which leaves Karabakh’s future political status in limbo — Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has been under fire at home.

Protesters have regularly taken to the streets of the capital Yerevan, branding him a “traitor” for agreeing to the deal and demanding his resignation.

Demonstrators rallied again on Monday, including outside the French embassy in Yerevan, appealing for help in finding soldiers still missing after the fighting.

While Armenia has reported more than 2,300 military casualties, thought to be an underestimate, Azerbaijan has not disclosed any military losses.

More than 100 civilians were reported killed on both sides.

(AFP)



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French parliament drops draft law curtailing right to film police



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The French parliament has dropped a controversial bill that would have curbed the right to film police officers in action, the speaker of parliament and MP from French President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party announced on Monday.

“The bill will be completely rewritten and a new version will be submitted,” Christophe Castaner, head of Macron’s LREM party told a news conference.

The draft bill had prompted protests across the country called by press freedom advocates and civil rights campaigners. Tens of thousands of people marched Saturday in Paris to reject the measure, including families and friends of people killed by police.

French activists feared that this proposed new security law would have deprived them of a potent weapon against abuse – phone videos of police activity – threatening their efforts to document possible cases of police brutality, especially in impoverished immigrant neighbourhoods.

Critics insisted the new law could hurt press freedoms and make it more difficult for all citizens to report on police brutality.

“I was lucky enough to have videos that protect me,” said Michel Zecler, a Black music producer who was beaten up recently by several French police officers. Videos first published Thursday by French website Loopsider have been seen by over 14 million viewers, resulting in widespread outrage over police actions.

Two of the officers are in jail while they are investigated while two others, also under investigation, are out on bail.

Hardening of police tactics in France

The proposed law was partly a response to demands from police unions, who say it will provide greater protection for officers.

Abdoulaye Kanté, a Black police officer with 20 years of experience in Paris and its suburbs, is both a supporter of the proposed law and strongly condemns police brutality and violence against officers.

“What people don’t understand is that some individuals are using videos to put the faces of our [police] colleagues on social media so that they are identified, so that they are threatened or to incite hatred,” he said.

“The law doesn’t ban journalists or citizens from filming police in action … It bans these images from being used to harm, physically or psychologically,” he argued. “The lives of officers are important.”

A “tiny fraction of the population feeds rage and hatred” against police, Jean-Michel Fauvergue, a former head of elite police forces and a lawmaker in Macron’s party who co-authored the bill, said in the National Assembly: “We need to find a solution.”

Critics noted a hardening of police tactics during protests or while arresting individuals. Hundreds of complaints have been filed against officers during the yellow vest movement against social injustice, which erupted in 2018 and saw weekends of violent clashes.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said out of 3 million police operations per year in France, some 9,500 end up on a government website that denounces abuses, which represents 0.3 percent.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)



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Prizewinning photojournalist injured covering Paris protest



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A press freedom group has denounced the “unacceptable” injury of an award-winning Syrian photojournalist during a Paris protest against police brutality.

Ameer Alhalbi, a freelance photographer who worked for Polka Magazine and AFP, was covering the demonstrations over the weekend opposing police violence and the French government’s new law restricting sharing images of officers.

In AFP photos Alhalbi’s face appears bruised with much of his head covered in bandages.

Christophe Deloire, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, tweeted that the 24-year-old had been wounded at Place de la Bastille by “a police baton” and condemned the violence.

“Ameer came from #Syria to #France to take refuge, like several other Syrian journalists. The land of human rights should not threaten them, but protect them,” he said in a second tweet.

Deloire also noted Alhalbi had been clearly identified as a journalist.

Dimitri Beck, director of photography for Polka, said that Alhalbi had suffered a broken nose and injured forehead, and had been taken to hospital.

Alhalbi has won several international awards, including second prize in the “Spot News” category for the World Press Photo in 2017, mainly for his coverage of the Syrian conflict in his home city Aleppo for AFP.

Police said Sunday that two demonstrators had complained of being hurt by officers in protests outside Paris, while no count had yet been made in the capital itself.

Some 62 police officers were injured during the Saturday demonstrations, the interior ministry said, while 81 people were arrested.

A number of videos shared online showed marchers beating police officers.

The interior ministry added that 133,000 people had taken part in the demonstrations, 46,000 of them in Paris, while organisers said the figure was  500,000 nationwide and 200,000 in Paris.

(AFP)

 

 



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‘Structural’ issues behind the brutality



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A video of a music producer being beaten up by three policemen in Paris has revived the debate about police brutality in France. While the unions say such incidents should be treated as isolated one-offs, others, such as researcher Jacques de Maillard, point to structural problems within the institution. 

“Unacceptable ” images that “shame us”: On his Facebook page, French President Emmanuel Macron did not mince his words in a November 27 posting denouncing the behaviour of the police officers who beat up and racially insulted Michel Zecler, a 42-year-old Black music producer, in his studio in Paris’s 17th arrondissement (district). Filmed by a CCTV camera and then broadcast by the Loopsider website, the “15 minutes of racist beatings and insults” sparked a national outcry and forced the government to act. The police officers have since been suspended and are now under investigation by the police disciplinary body.

The assault on Zecler comes amid heightened tensions over police violence. On November 23, police hit demonstrators, dispersed tear gas and chased people out of tents and into the street while violently clearing a makeshift camp of mostly Afghan migrants in the Place de la République. The following day, Parliament voted to move forward with a new security bill that critics worry could make it illegal for journalists or bystanders to film instances of police misconduct.

In an attempt to understand the structural roots of such police abuses, FRANCE 24 spoke to Jacques de Maillard, a researcher specialising in police issues and the director of CESDIP (Centre for Sociological Research on Law and Penal Institutions).

FRANCE 24: This extremely shocking attack comes at a time when the government is trying to ban the broadcasting of videos of on-duty police officers with the proposed new security law. How do you interpret the timing of these events?  

Jacques de Maillard: There’s a really tragic irony to it. This outbreak of violence, which is neither legitimate nor proportionate, shows once again how essential transparency is when it comes to the police. All the more so since the video here allows us to challenge the police officers’ false report. This case is particularly shocking and rightly provoked a very strong emotional reaction but it is not an isolated incident. Several videos have been released in 2020 that illustrate these kinds of cases, including that of Cédric Chouviat, the delivery man who died during a police stop in January; the racist remarks of the Seine-Saint-Denis police officers in April; or the excessive violence displayed during the evacuation of the migrant camp on Place de la République on November 23. Beyond the emotional factors and the irony of the situation, the recurrence of events like these highlights a structural problem that cannot be reduced, as the police often say, to isolated acts by individuals who must be punished.

Are these violent and racist outbursts related to a problem of recruitment within the police force, or to the supervision of officers in the field? 

First of all, let us remember that most police interventions take place without major problems. However, there are structural problems in terms of recruitment, training, philosophy and management. Our studies show that many people choose to join the police for noble reasons: the protection of citizens and a taste for action. The institution promotes this heroic version of the job, but the reality is far removed from the myth. Officers in the field sometimes feel as if they’re trying to empty the sea with a spoon, without support from their commanders and under constant criticism from the outside world. The work is exhausting, frustrating and breeds resentment. This spiral leads some police officers to want to take justice into their own hands, a pattern we see frequently. 

Problems were also identified during recruitment sessions, particularly with panels that focused on whether the recruit would be a good colleague, while questions of know-how and interpersonal skills, which are absolutely crucial to the job, were relegated to the background.  

Finally, the problems are exacerbated in the Paris region due to the demographics. Most police officers come from the provinces and want to return there. At the beginning of their careers, they find themselves working in complex neighbourhoods that they don’t know, and where they don’t necessarily want to be. This situation generates high staff turnover and a shortage of personnel, particularly among local supervisors such as brigadiers, reinforcing the feeling of disorientation and abandonment among young recruits. 

The question of racism is also an issue: police officers are not all racist, of course, but their working conditions can lead them to adopt negative stereotypes about minority populations, which result in discriminatory practices.  

Although the institution is extremely hierarchical, police officers perform many actions and activities on a daily basis without any oversight from their superiors. This leeway can be very positive, but it can also lead to serious abuses.

Is the interior minister partly responsible for this situation? 

The minister plays a complicated balancing role. He or she must both support the police and insist that they respect the rights of the people. These two requirements can become contradictory, as in the case of Gérald Darmanin, whose unqualified support for the police is now coming back at him like a boomerang. After having said in July that he “choked” when he heard the word “police violence”, how can he manage these types of scandals today? Especially since his words, like the government’s stance, can have an effect on police conduct. By minimising their responsibility, he is aggravating the problem because he conveys a negative image of the relationship between the police and the people. Darmanin had to come to terms with the police because his predecessor had been heavily criticised by the unions. However, this short-term political strategy will not solve the underlying problems of the tension between the police and the people. Today, the challenge is one of reorganisation; the system needs to be completely reassessed, beginning with practices on the ground and prioritising good relations with the public and the proportionate use of force. The police institution needs to do something about the cynicism that is spreading among the police and that sometimes leads to tragedies.

This piece has been translated from the original in French.



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Anger at police beating galvanises French protests against security bill



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Dozens of rallies are planned on Saturday against a proposed French law that critics say will undermine the media’s ability to scrutinise police behaviour, with the country shaken by footage showing officers beating and racially abusing a black man.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday said images of police beating a Black music producer in Paris put “shame” on the country, with top politicians and sportsmen expressing outrage over the incident.

The case, coming on the heels of a violent evacuation of migrants in central Paris, has shocked the nation and galvanised opponents of the government’s controversial new security law.

One of the most disputed elements of the proposed law is Article 24, which would criminalise the publication of images of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity”.

It was passed by the National Assembly last week — although it is awaiting Senate approval — provoking protests and drawing condemnation from media organisations across France.

>> French bill banning images of police worries activists and journalists

Rally organisers are calling for the article to be withdrawn, claiming that it contradicts “the fundamental public freedoms of our Republic”.

“This bill aims to undermine the freedom of the press, the freedom to inform and be informed, the freedom of expression,” one of Saturday’s protest organisers said.

Trade unions are expected to join the demonstrations, with members of the yellow vests — whose sometimes violent protests in 2018 and 2019 shook the country — also expected. 

Documenting abuses

In Paris, government officials had ordered that organisers limit the rally to a single location, but the order was quashed by judges who authorised a march.

And in a sign that the government could be preparing to backtrack, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Friday that he would appoint a commission to redraft Article 24.

Under the article, offenders could be sentenced to up to a year in jail, and fined 45,000 euros ($53,000) for sharing images of police officers.

The government says the provision is intended to protect officers from doxxing and online abuse, but critics say it is further evidence of the Macron administration’s slide to the right.

Media unions say it could give police a green light to prevent journalists — and social media users — from documenting abuses.

They point to the case of music producer Michel Zecler, whose racial abuse and beating at the hands of police was recorded by CCTV and later published online, provoking widespread criticism of the officers’ actions.

In another instance, journalists on the ground at a French migrant camp witnessed and recorded police brutality on Monday as the Paris area was cleared.

‘Soiled the uniform of the Republic’

The incidents have increased pressure on Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and raised questions over the future of Paris police chief Didier Lallement.

In an interview the France 2 television on Thursday, Darmanin said the officers involved in Zecler’s beating “had soiled the uniform of the Republic”.

Macron has held talks with Darmanin to call for tough punishments for those involved in the beating, a government source said.

>> Policing without consent: Why French police are ill-equipped to ‘reconquer’ Paris suburbs

Protests over police brutality have already taken place elsewhere in the country ahead of Saturday.

Demonstrators took to the streets of Toulouse on Friday evening brandishing placards with slogans like “police everywhere, justice nowhere”. In Nantes, police said around 3,500 rallied, while organisers put the crowd at 6,000-7,000. 

The condemnation has spread on social media sites following Zecler’s beating, with top footballers such as Kylian Mbappé joining his French national teammates and other athletes in calling for an end to racism.

“Unbearable video, unacceptable violence,” Mbappé wrote on Twitter next to a picture of the injured producer, “Say no to racism.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)



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Macron ‘very shocked’ by police brutality images as pressure on govt mounts


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French President Emmanuel Macron is “very shocked” by the images of police beating a Black music producer in Paris, a presidential official said on Friday, as pressure on the government mounted with top politicians and sportsmen expressing outrage over the incident.

A day after the publication of images of a brutal police beating of a Black man sparked condemnations across France, a presidential official said Macron was “very shocked” by the images.

The footage of police beating music producer, Michel Zecler in the 17th arrondissement (district) of the French capital over the weekend was the latest in a series of images of police violence published in recent days. It comes as the government is trying to push through controversial new security legislation that would restrict the right of the media to publish the faces of police agents.

Four police officers were detained for questioning on Friday over the beating of Zecler, AFP reported, citing a source close to the case.

The officers, who were suspended from duty on Thursday, were being held at the National Police Inspectorate General (IGPN), which is investigating charges of violence by a person in authority and false testimony.

‘Toxic climate’: Outcry grows in France after police filmed beating music producer


Pressure on interior minister, Paris police chief

In the wake of the latest police brutality scandal, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said he would set up “an independent commission with responsibility for proposing a new wording for Article 24″.

Article 24 of the “Comprehensive Security” bill, passed during a first reading by the lower house of parliament on Tuesday, would criminalise the publication of images of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity”.

Media and human rights groups have raised alarm about the possible impact on journalists covering police operations, warning that the wording is intended to dissuade citizens from videoing police and holding them accountable.

It has also increased pressure on Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and raised questions over the future of Paris police chief Didier Lallement, who was already in the spotlight after the forced removal of a migrant camp in Paris earlier in the week that has been widely condemned.

In an interview the France 2 television, Darmanin said the officers involved in Zecler’s beating “had soiled the uniform of the republic”.

‘Nausea’

Zecler was initially detained for causing violence, but prosecutors threw out that probe and instead began investigating the police themselves.

Macron on Thursday held talks with Darmanin to call for tough punishments for those involved in the beating, a government source added.

“Nausea,” said the front page headline in the leftist Libération daily newspaper over a close-up picture of Zecler’s swollen and bloodied face.

“The new video of a rare ferocity … adds to a problem fed over the last months by a succession of blunders and a tendency to revert to authoritarian tendencies,” it said.

Saturday protest against security law 

The death in US police custody of George Floyd in May and the Black Lives Matter movement have reverberated in France where allegations of brutality against police officers are commonplace, particularly in poor and ethnically diverse urban areas.

The latest police brutality video sparked condemnation on social media sites, with top footballers such as Kylian Mbappé joining his French national teammates and other athletes in calling for an end to racism.

“Unbearable video, unacceptable violence,” Mbappé wrote on Twitter next to a picture of the injured producer, “Say no to racism.”

 

A protest against the draft law, which has yet to pass a Senate vote, has been called for Saturday in Paris.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)



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