French police patrol near the Champs-Elysées in Paris on July 1, 2023, during nationwide protests against the killing of a 17-year-old delivery driver. At least 18 journalists were attacked or harassed while covering the demonstrations. (Reuters/Nacho Doce)

Police and protesters attack, obstruct at least 18 journalists covering French protests

Berlin, July 13, 2023—French authorities should investigate and hold to account police and activists responsible for attacks on journalists covering the nationwide demonstrations and riots that swept France after police shot and killed a 17-year-old delivery driver at a traffic stop in a Paris suburb, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

Protesters attacked or obstructed the work of at least 15 journalists covering demonstrations, and police attacked another three journalists, according to news reports and five journalists who spoke with CPJ.  

 “French authorities must conduct a swift and transparent investigation into reported attacks by police and protesters on journalists covering recent demonstrations,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Reporters deserve to be protected, not harassed, by police officers and must be able to cover protests without fear of injury.”

On June 27, the day the driver was killed, a protester hit Kiran Ridley, a photographer with photo agency Getty Images, three times on his head in the western Parisian suburb of Nanterre, and three other protesters threw stones at him before he could flee from the scene. Ridley was treated for a broken nose and had to undergo facial reconstruction surgery, the reporter told CPJ via messaging app.

On June 28, a car with the logo of Belgian Flemish-language public broadcaster VRT carrying four journalists—reporter Steven Decraen and an unnamed camera operator, sound engineer, and fixer—to report on protests in Nanterre was stopped by four people on motorcycles, according to reports and Decraen, who spoke to CPJ by phone. The individuals threatened the journalists, saying they would set their car on fire if they did not leave the neighborhood, which they did.

The next day  group of four or five people on foot again stopped their car in Nanterre and asked them to leave, making hand motions indicating they would cut their throat if they did not, leading the journalists to abandon their reporting plans, according to news reports and Decraen.

During the night of June 29 leading into the early morning hours of June 30, the following additional incidents were reported: 

  • Four people blocked the VRT car in Nanterre and told them they were not allowed to film and needed to leave. As the car backed up, the group began throwing stones at the vehicle, smashing the rear left window. Decraen said no one was injured, and on June 30 they filed a criminal complaint with police regarding the three incidents.
  • An unidentified man used a cobblestone to hit the head of Corentin Fohlen, a freelance photojournalist working with daily newspaper La Libération, in Nanterre, according to news reports and Fohlen, who communicated with CPJ via email. When the journalist, who was wearing a helmet labeled “press,” fell to the ground, three other people punched and hit him in the head and leg with cobblestones and took his camera. An emergency room treated him for minor injuries and bruising on his leg and body. 
  • Around 10 protesters in in Nanterre surrounded two reporters who work for daily newspaper Le Figaro and whose names have not been disclosed. The protesters accused the journalists of working for the police, hit one of them four or five times on the head, and stole both their phones. One of the journalists was treated in an emergency room for minor injuries to his face, including a cut on his eyebrow. 
  • An unknown number of protesters surrounded two reporters with Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera, beat them, and stole their camera in Nanterre. The journalists, who have not been publicly identified, reported minor injuries to their temples, neck, and shoulders. 
  • A group of 10 to 12 protesters in Nanterre surrounded Khanh Renaud, a photojournalist with weekly newspaper Le Point, beat and threw cobblestones at him, and then stole his camera. Renaud reported a knee injury and multiple bruises and filed a criminal complaint.
  • Around 15 protesters in the central city of Tours surrounded a female journalist, whose name was not disclosed, working for local public TV broadcaster Tours-Val de Loire. They threatened her with death, shoved her, took her camera, destroyed it with a cobblestone, and chased her for about 500 meters before she escaped without injury. Her outlet filed a criminal complaint with the police.
  • A group of eight to 10 protesters used their fists and cobblestones to hit Emma Audrey, a reporter for local Radio BIP, several times on her head and body in the eastern city of Besançon, according to news reports and Audrey, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app. The same group used a crowbar to hit the head of Toufik-de-Planoise, a freelance reporter on assignment for Radio BIP, when he briefly removed his helmet labeled “press.” The group shattered Audrey’s protective helmet, and the journalists were treated for a concussion and head wounds in an emergency room. 

On the night of June 30, an unknown number of protesters knocked Maël Fabre, deputy editor-in-chief of daily newspaper Ouest France, to the ground and hit him several times in the western city of Angers. He filed a criminal complaint with police on July 1.

On Saturday, July 8, Clément Lanot, a freelance reporter working for independent privately owned news agency CCL Press; Florian Poitou, a photographer with independent, privately owned news agency Abaca; and Pierre Tremblay, a photographer with the French edition of  U.S.-based news website HuffPost; were documenting the arrest of a protester in Paris, according to news reports and Lanot, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app.

A screengrab from footage shot by Clément Lanot shows police shoving a journalist. (Credit: Clément Lanot)

A group of between eight and 10 police officers in riot gear shoved the three reporters to the ground. An officer grabbed Poitou’s camera and threw it on the ground, damaging it, and another officer hit Tremblay with a shield several times despite his identifying himself as a journalist. 

Poitou filed a complaint with police, and Tremblay was treated for a sprained wrist at an emergency room. On July 9, Paris police told French state news agency AFP that they opened an investigation following complaints from the three journalists.

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