Four Paris police officers have been handed preliminary charges over the beating of a Black music producer, after security footage of the incident was posted online.
The video shows three of the officers shove Michel Zecler inside his music studio, then punch, kick and hit him repeatedly with a truncheon for several minutes. As they leave, a fourth officer throws a tear gas canister through the door.
Zecler, 41, said they also hurled racist insults at him, although the police deny that.
He said he was scared, afraid for his life. “I didn’t do anything to deserve that,” he said.
The video prompted outrage in France to the highest levels. French president Emmanuel Macron said the images were “shameful.” Posting on Facebook, he denounced what he called an “unacceptable attack.”
Preliminary charges have been filed against the three officers caught on tape for intentional violence in a group, with a weapon. The fourth officer, accused of throwing the tear gas, is under investigation for intentional violence. Two have been remanded in custody, while the other two were given conditional release.
During a press conference Sunday, Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz said the officers seen in the video said they had panicked, but admitted that their blows were “not justified and they had mainly acted out of fear.”
The police officers said they had approached Zecler because he was not wearing a mask. Heitz said they also smelled cannabis, but a search of his bag revealed only half a gram of the drug.
The video came to light as there are growing concerns in France that public trust in the police is being eroded.
Last week, the Paris police chief announced an internal investigation into officers accused of violence as they cleared an illegal refugee camp in the city center November 23.
The Zecler incident also again raised fears that a new law to restrict the right to publish or broadcast images of some police operations could be used to cover up alleged wrongdoing.
Article 24 of that law provoked accusations that the government was trampling on press freedom. Journalists asserted that it would make it difficult to report on police activities, and almost impossible to broadcast live on police operations.
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 of their families and even where their children go to school.
Protests against the law last Saturday in central Paris degenerated into violence. Rioters torched vehicles, vandalized shops and hurled stones and firecrackers at police, who responded by charging some of the crowd and firing tear gas.
Among those hurt 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.
Press freedom watch body RSF-Reporters Without Borders responded that it wasn’t enough to rewrite Article 24, but that the article should be scrapped entirely.
Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of RSF, also called on the government to “put concrete measures in place to bring an end to police violence against journalists covering demonstrations.”