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Policing of marches ‘eroding civil rights’ in France

A stronger police presence at protest marches is beginning to erode the civil right to demonstrate in France, a human rights campaigner has told Connexion.

Jean-Claude Guicheney, Human Rights League delegate for Aquitaine, said: “People who go know there is a risk of confront-ation, they may have tear gas grenades thrown at them, or they could even end up spending 24 hours in a cell, even if they have not been violent themselves.

“The first gilets jaunes march in autumn 2018 in Bordeaux was very different.

“There was a police presence, but it was discreet. At the front, there were older people and families with pushchairs, and everything passed peacefully. Now you see very few pushchairs at demonstrations.”

He said new legislation has led to stricter controls. “The State of Emergency law 2017, passed in reaction to the Paris terrorist attacks, allowed prefects to forbid movement of people or vehicles in certain areas at certain times, and a law in April 2019 gave the police the right to go through protestors’ bags.”

He described the police presence now as “quasi-military”. “It seems the state expects trouble and regards protestors almost as terrorists, who they are there to control, rather than protect.” The April 2019 anti-casseur law was introduced to prevent disruption from black bloc protestors.

“I have been an observer of protest marches for many years and there have always been potential trouble-makers, who the police stopped before they caused damage.

“Recently, I have been extremely surprised to see the police do nothing until trouble begins, and then have an excuse to wade in with a heavy hand. In Bordeaux, I have seen them use tear gas, when the situation does not legally allow them to do so.

“There have been more than 300 complaints against police violence overall and these cases are dealt with far more slowly than those against protestors. It is a worrying situation. The Commissioner for human rights in Europe has already warned France about the use of police violence against gilets jaunes protestors.”

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