The ongoing protests of the Gilets Jaunes are putting the French government under increasing pressure. After the announcement of a first ultimatum (Act 18 / 16 March) to President Macron, violent riots were already foreseeable weeks before. But another temporary climax of the escalation in France’s heated political climate was reached on April 20 (Act 23). The French leadership under Macron, which since December not only prevents participants of the Gilets Jaunes protests from entering the capital Paris, but also arrests them – with partly grotesque reasons.
Journalists are also increasingly being targeted by the state. What is striking here is that police attacks taking place on independent journalists.
A particularly critical stage was reached during the 23rd act of the Yellow Vests, when seven journalists in Toulouse and about twelve others in Paris were prevented from their work. While water cannons or flashball cannons were targeted at press people, fragments of dispersion grenades and baton blows also hit the independent reporters. Most spectacular, however, were the temporary detentions of two journalists: Alexis Kraland and Gaspard Glanz.
When the police knows you by your first name
“Hello Gaspard“, the Commissioner greeted the journalist Gaspard Glanz this Saturday on the square of the République in the north of Paris.
A short time later, the founder of Taranis News gets a grenade thrown at him which burns his trouser leg.
Angrily, he runs towards the group of policemen and asks the commissioner to speak. In the following scenario a policeman becomes violent towards him and pushes him backwards. He then shows him the stinky finger and is taken into custody by four policemen. The arrest, which was filmed by Hors Zone Press, ends with the policemen beating around themselves with their batons, dissolving the rest of the gathering of journalists around the action.
The Gaspard Glanz case needs special attention. Recognised in the industry as a video journalist, he has been documenting social movements in France for some time and regularly attends various demonstrations. With his production company Taranis News, he became known for his reporting during the Labour Laws, Notre Dames of the country and a report on the “Jungel of Calais”. His reportage traded him various entries in identification files, such as the “Fiche S” (State Security) and “Fiche J” (State wanted). However, he is not sought by the state, but continues to function in this file, despite a request to remove this marking.
A birthday in the jail cell for… ?
A fame that earned him a deprivation of liberty of over 48 hours and a birthday in the prison cell. On Monday 22.04.2019 a handful of journalists and private persons demonstrated for his release in front of the commissariat of the 12th arrondissement in Paris. We were there. Under condition he was released in the evening: Prohibition to appear and film in Paris on 1 May and Saturdays. On Monday 29.04.2019, however, this ban was successfully challenged in court by his lawyers. However, in some other European countries it would be unthinkable to impose a ban on the reporting of demonstrations.
The basis for his arrest is the law paragraph “disregard of persons with public authority” as well as “participation in a grouping for the commission of criminal offences or degradations”. While there is nothing to add to the first, the last accusation raises considerable questions.
Journalists in the crossfire of authoritarian laws?
Raphael Kempf, one of Gaspard Glanz’s lawyers, points out in his interview with Revue Ballast that legislation in France in recent years has not only damaged the right to demonstrate. Journalists, too, feel the interpretation of the law against its original purpose.
In 2010 under Sarkozy, Article 222-14-2 was included in the Code of Criminal Procedure. This prohibits participation in a group for the commission of criminal offences. Originally conceived in the context of the riots in the banlieues, it was intended to prevent the gathering of juveniles who could possibly cause riots.
The paragraph is strongly reminiscent of the film “Minority Report”, in which people are sentenced on the basis of a prediction and stands in direct contrast to the presumption of innocence:
“Every defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty by law.”
(Article 48, Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union)
Nine years later, it is this paragraph that brings Gaspard brilliance to the prison collection site. And incidentally, it is used against a large number of Yellow Vest demonstrators to prevent them from exercising their right to demonstrate. This is usually done in combination with people checks and is imposed when suspicious objects are found. These can include ski goggles, helmets and respirators. Usually the same pattern is followed. A suspicious object is found which gives the reason to take the person into custody. 24 hours later, after the demonstration is over, they are released.
The anti-riot law also affects the press
The law against troublemakers, popularly known as the “Loi Anti-Casseur“, was passed by the French state on 10 April 2019 after the violent riots in the context of the Yellow Vest movement.
The aim is to prohibit people from entering a defined area if they refuse to carry out physical checks or if they are in possession of objects that can per se be regarded as potential weapons. A card index will also be created for persons who are subject to a ban on demonstrations. This is limited to a clearly defined area, but can be very annoying for the persons. For example, Gaspard Glanz had to leave Paris for Act 24 (27 April 2019) at its own expense, threatening further consequences in the event of non-compliance. However, the ban on taking part in a demonstration and the ban on wearing a mask must also be viewed critically. While the use of rubber bullets is prohibited in other EU countries, and dispersion grenades are only used in extremely dangerous situations, they have become part of everyday life in France. Protective helmets and breathing masks, which protect the demonstrators from the worst effects, are thus criminalised. A situation that also affects journalists who need this equipment to protect their health.
Alexis Kraland, journalist from Paris, followed the yellow vests on the same Saturday to the subway station of the Gare du Nord, the northern station of Paris. There he was surrounded by policemen and asked to hand over his camera. When he refused, they pressed him against the wall and handcuffed him. When asked why the police wanted his camera, they replied that they were acting on behalf of the prosecution and that the camera could be a weapon. A policeman hit him on the hand with which he was holding his equipment. After the police threatened to confiscate the equipment of the surrounding photographers, they left the scene.
Afterwards his bag was searched where the police found remains of cannabis in his grinder. First, the police said the reason for Alexis Kraland’s arrest was rebellion against surrendering his camera. At the police station the reason was changed to “possession of narcotics”. Apparently neither of the two reasons was accepted by the prosecutor’s office, because at CheckNews/Liberation’s request the Paris prosecutor’s office stated that the reason was “participation in a group with regard to violence or humiliation”. After eight hours in custody Kraland was released, but his protective equipment had previously been destroyed by the police.
Is freedom of the press under threat in France?
If you look at the order to Glanz which prohibited him from filming in Paris on Saturdays, it is questionable what a stinky finger has to do with documenting public protest movements. Currently, the French government does not seem to tolerate independent reporting.
The Yellow Vest movement, which has grown into a serious social movement, seems to be the result of the policies of recent decades in France: a powerless lower class that fights persistently and with anger against a repressive leadership style that promotes the elites.
Whether the popularity of the neoliberal Macron will increase if he now makes the independent press his enemy ? Social media even make comparisons with autocratic systems.
In any case, the question is slowly emerging as to whether the freedom of the press is still valid in France or whether it is already acutely endangered. At any rate, destroying the protective equipment of rapporteurs and detaining journalists for hours without good reason are indicators of a dwindling right to free reporting.