Journalists work in front of French riot police during a demonstration against the government's pension reform in Paris, France, on March 23, 2023. (Reuters/Yves Herman)

French police beat, obstruct journalists covering pension protests

Berlin, April 4, 2023—French authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate recent attacks on journalists covering protests and ensure that police officers responsible for harassing members of the press are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

Demonstrations broke out throughout France on March 16, after the government raised the retirement age by two years, according to multiple news reports. Over the ensuing weeks of protests, police officers have attacked, harassed, or detained multiple journalists, according to news reports and journalists who spoke with CPJ.

“French authorities should conduct a swift, thorough, and transparent investigation into recent police attacks on journalists covering protests and hold those responsible to account,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Journalists in France must be able to cover protests without fear that they will be beaten with batons, detained without reason, or threatened by law enforcement officers.”

On March 16, in the northwestern city of Rennes, a police officer grabbed Angeline Desdevise, a photojournalist working for photo agency Hans Lucas, and threw her to the ground, according to news reports and Desdevise, who communicated with CPJ via email. Officers also briefly held Desdevise and other journalists at gunpoint, and released her after she repeatedly identified herself as a member of the press.

In Paris, Amar Taoualit, a reporter for privately owned news website Loopsider who was wearing a press vest, was filming police encircle a group of protestors when officers instructed him to move back, according to a video by the outlet and Taoualit, who communicated with CPJ via email. When Taoualit responded that he was a journalist and showed his press card, police sprayed him with tear gas, threatened him with a baton, and pushed him away. Taoualit told CPJ that he was not seriously injured and filed a complaint with the police.

The following evening in Paris, police arrested Chloé Gence, a reporter for the privately owned independent news outlet Le Média TV, and freelance reporter Paul Ricaud, according to multiple news reports, a video published by Turkish news agency Andalou, and a statement by Le Média TV.

During the arrest, police dragged and choked Gence while she shouted that she was a member of the press and could not breathe. Police held Ricaud until March 18 and released Gence on March 19, and did not file any charges against the journalists. Gence posted photos on Twitter showing that she received serious bruising from the incident.

On March 18 in Paris, a police officer used a baton to hit Clément Lanot, a photojournalist working for press agency CL Press, and knock him to the ground, according to the journalist, who posted about the incident on Twitter and communicated with CPJ by email. As he picked his equipment up from the ground, another police officer approached him and mockingly acted like he was going to kick him, Lanot told CPJ, adding that he was not injured and did not plan to report the incident.

As police charged a group of protesters, they knocked Lanot and around a dozen journalists to the ground on March 20 in Paris, according to Lanot and a video he published on Twitter.

Also in Paris on March 20, police detained Raphaël Kessler, a photojournalist working for Hans Lucas, alongside protesters when he was caught between two cordons, according to Kessler, who communicated with CPJ via email. Kessler was carrying his camera and showed police a letter from his agency proving his work as a journalist, but officers said the letter was outdated.

Kessler called his agency and obtained an updated letter, but police detained him for 20 hours before releasing him without charge. He told CPJ that he is preparing to file a collective complaint to the police with other journalists.

On March 21 in Rennes, a police officer held Samuel Clauzier, a photojournalist for local news website Le Poing, at gunpoint and cursed at him, saying the officer did not care “about your press thing,” before letting him go, according to news reports and Clauzier, who spoke to CPJ by messaging app and wrote about the incident on Twitter.

Around 9 p.m. on March 23 in Paris, freelance reporter Paul Boyer was interviewing a protester when a group of around 10 riot police began hitting people with truncheons, including Boyer, who identified himself as a member of the press and held his press card, according to multiple news reports, and Boyer, who tweeted about the incident and spoke to CPJ by phone. Police hit him once on the back of the head, twice in the face, and several times on the left hand as he covered his head. He received medical treatment at a hospital for a head wound and hand fracture and was deemed unable to work for 14 days due to his injuries. Boyer filed a complaint with the police online but had not heard back as of April 4, he said.

Separately, in the southern city of Montpellier, police officers pointed their guns at Clauzier and freelance reporter Ricardo Parreira while the pair walked backward, holding their cameras and yelling that they were members of the press, before letting them go, according to news reports, reports from Le Poing, Twitter videos posted by Clauzier.

On March 28, in the eastern city of Besançon, police repeatedly pushed Toufik-de-Planoise, a reporter with privately owned local outlets Média 25 and Radio Bip who was wearing a press helmet and vest, as he documented officers dispersing a protest, according to a Twitter video published by his colleague Emma Audrey, who also spoke to CPJ via messaging app. Audrey said de-Planoise filed a complaint with the police.

CPJ’s email to the press department of the French Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, did not receive a response.