Two police officers are being investigated for alleged violent behaviour during an operation to break up a protest migrant camp in Paris.
The public prosecutor’s office announced it had ordered inquiries into two specific complaints against officers despatched to remove a group of mainly Afghan migrants from Place de la République in the centre of Paris on Monday evening.
One investigation concerns an officer filmed apparently deliberately tripping up a man who was running away from the police, causing him to fall badly. The second concerns a police officer filmed holding a journalist on the ground while appearing to threaten him with a truncheon.
Rémy Buisine, a reporter with the news website Brut, claimed he was attacked by the same officer “three times” during the evening.
Claire Hédon, the independent defender of rights for France, announced that she would be looking into the police actions.
Several hundred migrants had set up tents in Place de la République after a call by humanitarian organisations; most had been already thrown out of an ad hoc camp on the northern edge of Paris last week and had nowhere to go.
The French authorities despatched a squadron of mobile gendarmes as well as officers from the anti-crime brigade and several companies from a “security and intervention unit” to break up the camp.
Despite appeals from a number of local councillors, politicians, lawyers and humanitarian organisers, the police set about pulling up tents, tipping their occupants on to the ground, and attempting to disperse the crowds with teargas.
Photographs and video images of the operation spread on social media, prompting the interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, to say that some of the scenes were “shocking” and unacceptable, and to order an inquiry.
However, on Wednesday, Darmanin reiterated his support for the police. “These people were mostly without papers and illegally installed on Place de la République. This clearing [of the camp] was completely legitimate,” he told France 2. “There were unacceptable actions from some police officers … these have to be looked into … those who messed up will be punished.”
The prosecutor’s office has asked the police force’s internal disciplinary body to look into the two accusations of “violence by a person with public authority”.
The police commissioner, Matthieu Valet, who also represents the union Syndicat Indépendant des Commissaires de Police, told Marianne magazine: “The images are disastrous, but this behaviour doesn’t represent the police.”
The row over the operation came as French MPs approved a new law that would prevent media publishing or broadcasting images identifying on-duty police with “deliberate” intent to harm.
Article 24 of the Global Security Law was amended to state it would not threaten the “right to inform”. But critics have said it remains a threat to press freedom.
Valet accused the humanitarian organisations of “using human misery to obtain shocking pictures”, and said police officers were “subjected to violence every day”.
On Tuesday evening several thousand people gathered in Place de la République to protest against “police violence”. Another demonstration has been called for Saturday.
In a separate affair Hédon has called for “disciplinary action” against four police accused of seriously injuring Théo Luhaka, a youth worker, when they arrested him in 2017. Hédon said this action should be separate from any legal move.
The public prosecutor has called for legal proceedings against three of the four officers for violence against Luhaka, who claims an officer sodomised him with a truncheon during the arrest leaving him with injuries requiring lifelong medical care.