French press freedom groups have described the arrest of journalist Gaspard Glanz at the Yellow Vest protest in Paris over the weekend as "an affront to freedom of the press."
Glanz, a freelance video journalist covering social movements, was arrested while covering a demonstrations at Place de la République in Paris on Saturday.
Placed in custody for “insult to a representative of public authority” and “participation in a group with a view to causing violence and degradations”, Glanz remained in custody on Monday, awaiting referral to a court.
Police also arrested freelance journalist Alexis Kraland on Saturday but released him in the evening.
A video of the arrest shows Glanz asking a line of police officers to speak to a superintendent, claiming he was targeted by a tear gas grenade. When an officer pushes Glanz away, he gives the officer the finger, and a group of officers arrest him.
Giving the finger to a police officer is grounds for arrest on charges of insult of a representative of public authority.
Lawyer Raphael Kempf said the 48-hour period of custody was “disproportionate and illegal” and amounted to “an affront to freedom of the press and the freedom to inform”.
“If they wanted to interrogate him for giving the finger to a security officer, there is no need to keep him in custody, he could be summoned to a tribunal,” Kempf said.
Fifty journalists and others rallied in support outside the courthouse on Monday to protest Glanz's extended detention, and the hashtag #FreeGaspardGlanz was trending on Twitter for much of the day.
A petition calling for Glanz's release and for his name to be removed from a watch list of allegedly dangerous individuals had more than 20,000 signatures on Monday evening.
Journalism or activism
Glanz and his production company Taranis News are part of a recent trend of video journalists immersed in social movements, filming with light materials, often during clashes between protesters and police.
Glanz considers himself a journalist, while others consider themselves activists or both.
French newspaper Libération reports that Glanz played a role in reviewing images that broke the scandal surrounding Alexandre Benalla, President Emmanuel Macron's former bodyguard.
Saturday's arrest and Monday's court referral were not the first time Glanz has faced legal procedures for incidents related to his activity as a reporter.
He was ordered to pay a symbolic fine for picking up a riot police officer's walkie-talkie while covering the clearing of the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais in 2016.
He later faced legal action, dropped according to his lawyer, for posting a Nazi slogan beside a photo of police officers on Facebook.
But Glanz's arrest drew support of press freedom groups, who spoke of a generalised targeting of journalists covering the Yellow Vest protests.
“We are shocked by the general repression of many journalists since the beginning of the Yellow Vest movement,” said Dominique Pradalié, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists at the courthouse rally, adding journalists have filed “dozens of complaints” since the movement began last November.
The union in a statement said authorities were seeking “to intimidate journalists by preventing them from informing the citizens of the country”.
The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders also gave a general warning about police targeting journalists during demonstrations.
“A number of incidents since the beginning of the Yellow Vest movement, targeting both professional and non-professional journalists clearly identified as members of the press as they are filming or taking pictures, hinders the work of the press and limits the capturing of images of events that by their nature are of a crucial public interest,” said Catherine Monnet, the group's deputy editor in chief.
Reports of injuries
Another union, CFDT-journalistes, called for an investigation into police conduct and said it was considering going to France's rights defender body in regards to security forces' respect for its code of ethics.
Several journalists reported being wounded during Saturday's protests.
Two journalists reported being hit by sting-ball grenades in Toulouse, and in Paris, a photographer with AFP agency “was hit by a tear gas grenade in his legs” and “was hit, not in a moment of action,” by a police officer, according to the agency.
The French government said that police were often confronted with a difficulty of ensuring journalists were able to do their work.
“Security forces are mobilised every Saturday to prevent violence and ensure the security of demonstrators but also of journalists who regularly, and again this Saturday, take sides,” an interior ministry spokesperson told AFP agency Sunday.
“If journalists are arrested, which can happen, they are not arrested as journalists as such, but due to infractions.”