FRANCE: Officers attack professional photographer trying to cover police violence

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27.11.12 - A photographer was physically abused by officers after he tried to take pictures of disproportionate force being used against a man during a stop and search operation at a train station in Paris.

Maonghe Mbaitjongue tried to document the arrest carried out at Chatelet-Les-Halles station on just before 1AM on 9 November, after he heard screams in one the corridors. A man was lying down, surrounded by about twenty police officers and a railway company security agent, his head pressed on the floor by a policemans knee, as shown in a photograph by Mbaitjongue available online in a Basta Mag article which reported the event. [1] Mbaitjongue claimed the man was hit many times.

The photographer was himself verbally and physically abused by several police officers after he refused to show them the pictures he had taken. As Mbaitjongue protested, attempting to assert his rights, one policeman replied:

"Here we are in France, stop [annoying] me with your rights, there is no witness! Dont look for any!"

In shock and unable to work for three days (a doctor required he should take temporary professional leave), Mbaitjongue went to report the incident at a police station. According to Basta Mag, the officer on duty encouraged him not do so, in order to try and stop an awkward situation developing for the reporting officer. The complaint was eventually lodged after five hours of dispute.

The number of complaints lodged against violence by law enforcement officers in France has increased by 96% between 2010 and 2011. [2] Such an increase may be attributed to broader access to the complaint procedure (since 2010, individuals can lodge a complaint to the French Ombudsman, the Défenseur des Droits). However police violence, deaths in custody and the impunity of officers have been widely reported for many years by several international organisations - including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Open Society Justice Initiative. [3]

The Frenchs Ombudsman 2011 Annual Report stated that 10% of the complaints received by the Ombudsmans office concern[ed] refusal by the police or gendarme services to record peoples complaints which constitutes a violation of Article 15(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Police violence, including attacks on journalist, during European protests against austerity has been stronlgy criticised by international organisations in the past few months. [4].

In June 2012, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe stated on his blog:

"Since the beginning of this year, journalists have suffered physical attacks in Azerbaijan on a number of occasions, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania and Russia. Governments should treat violence against journalists with the utmost seriousness, as such attacks aim at the core of our democracies." [5]

[1] Témoin de violences policières, il en devient victime, Eros Sana, Basta Mag, 14 November 2012
[2] Défenseur des Droits, Annual Report 2011- Synthesis, June 2012
[3] Statewatch, France: Human rights organisations say reform of stop and search legislation does not go far enough, October 2012
[4] Amnesty International, Don't beat protesters EU countries warned, 25 October 2012 ; Human Rights Watch, Greece: Enquiry on police abuse a positive step, 6 July 2011
[5] Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Continued attacks in Europe: journalists need protection from violence, 5 June 2012

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