The organized demonstrations, as part of a continuous mobilization that has been going on for two months in France, to protest the amendment of the retirement system, have been marred by riots that have been accompanied by violent police practices in recent days, according to several human rights organizations.
The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, made the same accusation.
“The sporadic acts of violence by some demonstrators, or other condemned acts committed by others during a demonstration, do not justify the excessive use of force by state agents. Nor are these acts sufficient to deprive peaceful demonstrators of their freedom of assembly,” she said.
In contrast, NGOs adopted a more scathing tone.
“The authoritarian drift of the French state, the violentization of relations by the police, acts of violence of all kinds and impunity are all a resounding scandal,” said Patrick Baudouin, president of the League for Human Rights.
The association accused the authorities of violating “citizens’ right to protest through the disproportionate and dangerous use of force.”
Human Rights Watch, for its part, criticized the “arbitrary crowd containment and riot control tactics”.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin saw that the police had settled their actions to confront the “extremist course” taken by the “vandals” of the “extreme left” who infiltrated the demonstrators to stir up riots.
Agence France-Presse correspondents saw many masked youths setting garbage containers on fire, smashing storefronts and throwing stones or fireworks at the security forces.
The authorities said that about 1,500 “terrorists”, members of the so-called “Black Bloc”, which are extremist groups of terrorists, infiltrated the protest procession in Paris on Thursday. And 441 policemen and gendarmes were injured during Thursday’s demonstrations across France.
The minister indicated that 11 investigations were launched against members of the police. He explained, “It may be members of the police or gendarmerie who often feel exhausted, and have committed, on an individual level, practices that may contradict what they have learned,” stressing at the same time the “fantastic” work of the security forces “to avoid any death.”
More than 450 people were arrested during the day of the most violent demonstrations since the start of the protest movement against reforming the pension system, which raises the retirement age from 62 to 64 years.
Since the bill was passed without a vote in parliament last week, videos have circulated on social media showing French police officers pushing or beating protesters.
“It seems that the French authorities have not learned lessons and have not reviewed their policies and practices in crowd containment,” said Benedict Janreau, director of Human Rights Watch in France, since the 2018-2019 yellow vest demonstrations, which he compares to the current move.
The Public Prosecution Office in Paris opened at least three investigations on suspicion of violence by a person with official authority in the recent period, according to a source familiar with the file.
One of these investigations was initiated on March 14, after the mother of a 15-year-old high school student, Fanny, filed a complaint after she was hit on her forehead by shrapnel, likely to have been caused by the police throwing a grenade to drive away the demonstrators.
According to the complaint, the text of which was seen by Agence France-Presse, that two policemen beat her with a baton when she was on the ground.
Another complaint relates to a policeman’s punch to the face of a demonstrator Monday evening in Paris, and was filmed in a tape that was widely circulated on the Internet.
According to reports by human rights groups, the police may have caused an injury to a man, forcing doctors to amputate one of his testicles.
Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said this week that security forces only intervene when groups form “with the intention of committing acts of violence.”