Police in Paris have launched an internal inquiry after a video on social media appeared to show an officer punching a protester to the ground.
The footage shows a protest on rue Saint-Antoine, near Place de la Bastille, on Monday (March 20) evening.
It shows protesters clashing with members of the anti-violence law enforcement group, les Brigades de répression de l'action violente motorisée (Brav-M).
One Brav-M appears to walk up to a protester, punch them violently in the face, and then leave. The protester falls to the ground, struggles a little, and remains lying down.
Twitter user Timothée Forget - who describes himself as a journalism student - published the video at 23:43 on Monday.
He said he had been following the protests against France’s controversial pensions reforms over the past few days.
un membre de la #BRAV vient de mettre une droite à un manifestant #ReformeDesRetraites #directAN #greve20mars #manif20mars #Manifestations #MacronDestitution #MotionDeCensureTransPartisane #Borne #Macron pic.twitter.com/PQPn4n6fuG— Timothée Forget (@xztim_) March 20, 2023
Paris police chief Laurent Nuñez told BFMTV the protester had been demonstrating against the arrest of another individual, who had been detained for allegedly damaging a newspaper kiosk.
Mr Nuñez said: “It is in this context that the punch was given. But when we take a look at the video, yes, the move appears to be inappropriate. All investigations are underway to know if this move indeed was inappropriate.”
Mr Forget said that he did not know any other details about the altercation or the condition of the person who was punched.
The Paris police prefect later said that “the injury was not severe”. He said that the victim was able to leave soon after and was not arrested.
The inquiry comes amid increasing violence among protesters during anti-pension reform strikes. Three law enforcement officers were reportedly “seriously injured” on Tuesday (March 21) during protests outside a fuel refinery in Bouches-du-Rhône.
Read more: Petrol workers requisitioned in France as shortages begin to bite
Similarly, France has a chequered relationship with police violence.
In 2019, the United Nations placed the country on a police violence list that highlighted nation-states that were under investigation for the use of excessive violence towards protesters.
France was the only developed nation on the list, which also included Sudan, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Haiti. It received particular condemnation for police behaviour during the 2018-2019 gilets jaunes protests.
In the same year, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said “police violence” was “making protests difficult” in the capital.
In 2020, it was announced that all police officers would wear body cameras – caméras-piétons (pedestrian cameras) in French – whenever they were on duty.
The cameras are intended to collect footage that can be viewed afterwards, as a way to ensure that police are following the correct procedure and to check what happened during any contested or controversial events.
In July 2022, the interior minister announced that France would open a new training centre for law enforcement officers who are called to attend protests.
Paris mayor: ‘Police violence makes protest difficult’
United Nations places France on police violence list