Parisian police under investigation after video of beatings arouses outrage

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Four Parisian police officers have been charged before the beating of a black music producer, after security footage of the incident was posted online.
Video shows three of the officers pushing Michel Zecler inside his music studio and then repeatedly punching, kicking and punching him with a baton for several minutes. On leaving, a fourth officer throws a tear gas canister through the door.

Zecler, 41, said they also hurled racist slurs at him, although police deny it.

He said he was afraid, afraid for his life. “I didn’t do anything to deserve this,” he said.

The video caused outrage in France at the highest level. French President Emmanuel Macron said the images were “shameful”. By posting on Facebook, he denounced what he called an “unacceptable attack”.

Preliminary charges were filed against the three police officers registered for intentional violence in a group, with a weapon. The fourth officer, accused of throwing tear gas, is under investigation for intentional violence. Two were remanded in custody, while the other two were released on conditional release.

At a press conference on Sunday, Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz said the officers seen in the video said they panicked, but admitted their beatings were “not justified and they acted mainly out of fear” .

Police said they approached Zecler because he was not wearing a mask. Heitz said they smelled like cannabis as well, but a search of his bag revealed only half a gram of the drug.

The video came to light as France increasingly feared that public confidence in the police was being eroded.

Last week, the Paris police chief announced an internal investigation into police officers accused of violence as they cleared a camp for illegal refugees in the city center on November 23.

The Zecler incident also raised concerns once again that a new law restricting the right to publish or broadcast footage of certain police operations could be used to cover up suspected wrongdoing.

Article 24 of this law prompted accusations that the government was violating press freedom. Journalists claimed that it would be difficult to report on police activities and almost impossible to broadcast police operations live.

Police unions defended the article, saying their members are often filmed up close with smartphones by people who then post the video or photos on social media, with the names of the officers, and sometimes the names and addresses their families and even where their children go to school.

Protests against the law last Saturday in central Paris escalated into violence. Rioters torched vehicles, vandalized shops and threw stones and firecrackers at police, who responded by charging part of the crowd and firing tear gas.

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Thousands of protesters gathered in Paris on November 28 against a new French law that would restrict the sharing of images of police officers, just days after the country was rocked by images showing police allegedly beating and racially abusing ‘a music producer.

Reuters Video

Among those injured in the clashes was Syrian photojournalist Ameer Alhalbi, now based in Paris, who said it was like being in Aleppo.

On Monday, lawmakers announced they were suspending the controversial article, promising it would be completely rewritten.

The press freedom watchdog RSF-Reporters Without Borders replied that it was not enough to rewrite article 24, but that the article should be deleted entirely.

Christophe Deloire, secretary general of RSF, also called on the government to “put in place concrete measures to put an end to police violence against journalists covering the demonstrations”.

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