French police risk charges over black man’s beating after clashes

Demonstrators clash with French riot police during a protest against the 'global security' draft law in Paris, on November 28, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2020

French police risk charges over black man’s beating after clashes

  • The beating of a music producer has become a rallying cause for anger against the police in France
  • The police in France are accused of institutionalized racism including singling out blacks and Arabs

PARIS: Four French police on Sunday risked being charged over the beating and racial abuse of a black music producer that shocked France and intensified controversy over new security legislation.
Tens of thousands protested across France Saturday against the security bill — which would restrict the right of the press to publish the faces of on-duty police — with the rally in Paris ending in bitter clashes.
The beating of music producer Michel Zecler — exposed in video footage published last week — has become a rallying cause for anger against the police in France, accused by critics of institutionalized racism including singling out blacks and Arabs.
The protests in Paris saw a brasserie set alight, cars set on fire and stones thrown at security forces, who responded with tear gas and anti-riot tactics.
Among those hurt was an award-winning Syrian photojournalist, Ameer Alhabi, seen with a bruised face and much of his head covered in bandages in AFP photos.
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.
Alhalbi is freelance photographer who has worked for Polka Magazine and AFP, who both condemned the incident in statements Sunday.
“We are shocked by the injuries suffered by our colleague Ameer Al-Halbi and condemn the unprovoked violence,” said Phil Chetwynd, AFP’s global news director, demanding that the police investigate the incident
Police said 62 officers were injured at the demonstrations and 81 people arrested, with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin saying the violence in the protests was “unacceptable.”
Authorities did not have a tally for the number of marchers injured, saying only that two people outside the capital had complained of police violence.
Four police have been detained over the beating of Zecler, with three of them specifically probed for using racial violence as well as for making false statements.
Following questioning by the police’s National Police Inspectorate General (IGPN) they have now been handed over to the judicial authorities to decide on the next steps, which could see them being charged.
They could face a fast-track trial or a more standard procedure which would see a case being opened and the men appear before an investigating magistrate.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz is due to give an update on the measures to be taken against them from 5:00 p.m. (1600 GMT).
Commentators say that the images of the beating — first published by the Loopsider news site — may never have been made public if the contentious Article 24 of the security legislation was made law.
The bill would criminalize publishing images of on-duty police with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity.”
It was passed by the National Assembly although it is awaiting Senate approval.
The controversy over the law and police violence is developing into another crisis for the government as President Emmanuel Macron confronts the pandemic, its economic fallout and a host of problems on the international stage.
Macron said Friday that the images of Zecler’s beating “shame us” and asked the French government to come up with proposals to “fight against discrimination.”
For critics, the legislation is further evidence of a slide to the right by Macron, who came to power in 2017 as a centrist promising liberal reform of France.
A series of high-profile cases against police officers over mistreatment of black or Arab citizens has raised accusations of institutionalized racism. The force has insisted violations are the fault of isolated individuals.


Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

Updated 15 January 2021

Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

  • Parents being targeted for investigation because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands
  • The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant

THE HAGUE: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government resigned on Friday over a child benefits scandal, media reported, threatening political turmoil as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of parents were wrongly accused by Dutch authorities of fraudulently claiming child allowance, with many of them forced to pay back large amounts of money and ending up in financial ruin.
The fact that some parents were targeted for investigation by tax officials because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands.
Dutch media said Rutte was due to give a statement at 1315 GMT about the resignation of his four-party coalition cabinet, which comes just two months before the Netherlands is due to hold a general election on March 17.
A hard-hitting parliamentary investigation in December said civil servants cut off benefits to thousands of families wrongly accused of fraud between 2013 and 2019.
The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant that first emerged in Britain.
Rutte had opposed the cabinet’s resignation, saying the country needs leadership during the pandemic.
He had however said that if it resigned he could be authorized to lead a caretaker government until elections — in which polls say his Freedom and Democracy Party would likely come first.
Other parties in the coalition had pushed for the government to take responsibility for the scandal, which Dutch media said some 26,000 people had been affected.
They could have also faced a confidence vote in parliament next week.
Pressure mounted on the government after opposition Labour party chief Lodewijk Asscher, who was social affairs minister in Rutte’s previous cabinet, resigned on Thursday over the scandal.
Victims also lodged a legal complaint Tuesday against three serving ministers and two former ministers including Asscher.
Many were required to pay back benefits totalling tens of thousands of euros (dollars).
Tax officials were also revealed to have carried out “racial profiling” of 11,00 people based on their dual nationality, including some of those hit by the false benefit fraud accusations.
The Dutch government announced at least 30,000 euros in compensation for each parent who was wrongly accused but it has not been enough to silence the growing clamour over the scandal.
Rutte has led three coalition governments since 2010, most recently winning elections in 2017 despite strong opposition from far-right leader Geert Wilders.
Polls say he is likely to win a fourth term in the next election, with public opinion still largely backing his handling of the coronavirus crisis.