28 March 2012
Agence France Presse, January 7, 2003
PARIS (AFP) French police defended themselves Tuesday over an incident in which they detained a television news crew from the west African state of Mali and erased part of their camera tape after being filmed manhandling two Malian illegal immigrants.
The national police service issued its statement a week after the December 30 scene on an Air France plane about to leave Paris for the Malian capital Bamako carrying four officers escorting the two immigrants being deported.
The officers were roughly holding down the immigrants when they realised they were being recorded by a camera crew from Malian national television that happened to be accompanying Malian textile specialists on board.
The two African journalists were quickly detained and their camera tape confiscated. A French student who allegedly insulted the officers was also arrested, at which point the plane's pilot ordered all of them off the aircraft.
Both journalists had a "hostile attitude" to the officers, the police statement claimed.
But it added that the two had been held only for questioning as witnesses to the scene, in which one of the officers "was slightly hurt".
It said the tape had been confiscated because "the officers were filmed without their permission". Thirty to forty seconds of the tape were erased then the tape was returned, the statement said.
The illegal immigrants, it said, had merely been "controlled normally according to techniques taught to police officers" after they tried to resist being deported.
However, the Malian journalists, interviewed Sunday, gave a different account.
The reporter, Youssouf Toure, told AFP: "A handcuffed Malian was being beaten up and yelling. I told my cameraman to film the scene. Four French police officers got violent with us and made us leave the plane before confiscating the film of the scene."
The arrests of the television crew caused an outcry in Mali, where the Union of West African Journalists (UJAO) condemned the police actions.
"It's intolerable that such a scene could take place in France, land of human rights," UJAO president Ibrahim Famakan Coulibaly told a media conference Monday.
He added that his group was urging journalists in the region to march later this week on Air France offices in Bamako.
Malian media, meanwhile, have issued reports saying the journalists' detention illustrated the "persecution" that Malians suffer in France, and a senior government official, speaking anonymously, criticised "these acts of barbarity against Malians being deported, and against journalists".
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