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Taser firm loses first libel battle

Stun gun distributor complaint against human rights group fails ahead of further cases.

A FIRM that imports and distributes Taser stun guns in France has lost the first in a series of high court battles over claims that the supposedly safe police weapon can be lethal.

SMP Technologies sought damages from a human rights group, RAID-H, after it published material arguing against the pistol's use, including a cartoon of a Taser-wielding robot emblazoned with the image of a dead body.

The firm, which supplies Tasers to the French police and military, insists the weapon is safe, and has responded to complaints about its introduction with a series of legal challenges and allegedly an illegal surveillance campaign.

The Paris high court, however, threw out the claim, ruling that RAID-H's leaflets had contributed to an international debate on health and safety that was in the public interest and had not abused its right to free speech.

SMP Technologies' campaign against the Taser's critics has proved highly controversial, and its chairman Antoine Di Zazzo has been accused of mounting an illegal surveillance operation against one of his opponents.

Di Zazzo was arrested earlier this month, along with several police officers, private detectives and a customs official, on suspicion of having spied on Olivier Besancenot.

Besancenot, is winding up the party he leads, the Communist Revolutionary League (LCR), to found a New Anti-Capitalist Party in January.

SMP has launched a second libel battle against Besancenot after he claimed in his blog and a newspaper interview that Taser guns had "probably silenced more than 150 people in the US.”

The firm claims that tests have shown that the Taser's 50,000-volt punch can immobilise but not kill a suspect.

Besancenot has countered that he was simply drawing attention to an Amnesty International report on its alleged dangers.

A third libel suit has been brought against the magazine L'Express.

In February the United Nations Committee Against Torture warned, in comments on the Taser's possible introduction in Portugal, that “the use of these weapons causes severe pain constituting a form of torture, and that in some cases it may even cause death."

Photo:Afp/Jean-Pierre Muller

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