Four French police officers charged after beating of black music producer

Agence France-Presse
·3-min read
CCTV camera footage, widely distributed on social networks, shows Mr Zecler being beaten up by police officers - MICHEL ZECLER / GS GROUP/AFP via Getty Images
CCTV camera footage, widely distributed on social networks, shows Mr Zecler being beaten up by police officers - MICHEL ZECLER / GS GROUP/AFP via Getty Images

Four French police officers have been charged in connection to the beating and racial abuse of a black music producer, a judicial source said Monday, days after the incident in Paris that intensified controversy over a new security law.

The beating of music producer Michel Zecler - exposed in video footage published last week - has become a focus of anger against the police, who critics accuse of institutionalised racism and targeting black and Arab people.

Tens of thousands protested on Saturday against the security bill, which would restrict the right to publish images of on-duty police. The rally in Paris ended in bitter clashes.

An investigating magistrate ruled early Monday morning to charge three with "willful violence by a person holding public authority" and "forgery", a judicial source told AFP.

Two were kept behind bars, while the other two were put on conditional release, the source added.

Demonstrators climb on the statue "Le Triomphe de la Republique"  - THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images
Demonstrators climb on the statue "Le Triomphe de la Republique" - THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images

On Sunday Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz had called for the officers to be charged specifically with using racial abuse.

The protests in Paris saw a brasserie set alight, cars torched 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 al-Halbi, 24, seen with a bruised face and much of his head covered in bandages in AFP photos.

Al-Halbi is a 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.

Al-Halbi was unable to get to hospital for several hours, and said he was reminded of being in the Syrian civil war in his hometown.

"It was Aleppo that came back to me last night," he said.

Police said 81 people were arrested at the protests, with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin saying the violence was "unacceptable".

In a tweet, Darmanin said 98 police officers had been hurt during the protests, adding: "Those behind the violence will be pursued."

Ahead of the charges, the four officers had been questioned by the police's National Police Inspectorate General (IGPN) on suspicion of using violence and racial abuse.

Heitz said three of the officers should remain in custody "to avoid the perpetrators communicating or pressure on witnesses".

He called for charges of intentional violence, racial abuse and posting a false police report.

The fourth man, who arrived on the scene later and fired a tear gas canister, should be freed under conditions and charged with intentional violence, he said.

The four officers had a good service record before the incident, he said, and claimed they had acted "out of fear".

Zecler had been stopped for not wearing a mask and because of a strong smell of cannabis. But only a tiny quantity of the substance was found, he said.

Lawyers representing three of the officers declined to comment Monday on the charges.