Sydney, Auckland are first major cities to kick off 2024 New Year’s celebrations

Sydney and Auckland have become the world’s first major cities to ring in 2024, with more than a million revelers cheering spectacular fireworks displays that lit up the skies over Sydney Harbor and New Zealand’s tallest structure, Sky Tower.

As the clock struck midnight in Australia‘s largest city, tons of explosives erupted in a 12-minute display that focused on the Sydney Harbor Bridge. More than 1 million people, a number equivalent to one in five of the city’s residents, watched from the shore and from boats in the harbor.

“It’s total madness,” said German tourist Janna Thomas, who had waited in line since 7:30 a.m. to secure a prime waterfront location in the Sydney Botanic Garden. “It’s not so easy to find a good place to sit, but the view is incredible.”

In Auckland, the light rain that fell all day had cleared as forecast by midnight over the city of 1.7 million people before the countdown began on an illuminated digital display near the top of the 328-meter (1,076-foot) communications and observation tower.

The ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and heightened tensions in parts of the world, are affecting this year’s New Year‘s Eve celebrations in a myriad of ways. Many cities were deploying extra security, and some places canceled New Year’s Eve events altogether.

More police than ever were deployed throughout Sydney. The waterfront has been the scene of heated pro-Palestinian protests after the sails of the Sydney Opera House were illuminated in the colors of the Israeli flag in response to the Oct. 7 attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas that triggered the war.

Eight tonnes of fireworks launched in Sydney to celebrate the New Year


At the Vatican, Pope Francis recalled 2023 as a year marked by wartime suffering. During his traditional Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, he offered prayers for “the tormented Ukrainian people and the Palestinian and Israeli populations, the Sudanese people and many others.”

“At the end of the year, we will have the courage to ask ourselves how many human lives have been shattered by armed conflict, how many dead and how much destruction, how much suffering, how much poverty,” the pontiff said. “Whoever has interest in these conflicts, listen to the voice of conscience.”

In New York City, officials and party organizers said they were prepared to ensure the safety of tens of thousands of revelers expected to flood Times Square in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

Mayor Eric Adams said there were “no specific threats” to the annual New Year’s Eve bash, which was set to feature live performances from Flo Rida, Megan Thee Stallion and LL Cool J, as well as televised appearances from Cardi B and others. Organizers said in-person attendance was expected to return to pre-COVID levels, even as foot traffic around Times Square remains down slightly since the pandemic.

Amid near-daily protests sparked by the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, New York City police said they would expand the security perimeter around the party, creating a “buffer zone” that would allow them to head off potential demonstrations.

Officials also planned to monitor any protests with drones, the mayor said.

“We will be out here with our canines, on horseback, our helicopters, our boats,” Adams said. “But as we saw last year, after having no specific threats, we get a threat.”

During last year’s New Year’s Eve party, a machete-wielding man attacked three police officers a few blocks from Times Square.

Paris celebrations to highlight 2024 Olympics

Security also will also be heightened across European cities on Sunday.

In France, 90,000 law enforcement officers were set to be deployed, domestic intelligence chief Céline Berthon said Friday.

Of those, 6,000 will be in Paris, where French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said over 1.5 million people are expected to attend celebrations on the Champs-Elysees.

Darmanin cited a “very high terrorist threat” because, in part, of “what is happening in Israel and Palestine,” referring to the Israel-Hamas war.

Darmanin said that police for the first time will be able to use drones as part of security work and that tens of thousands of firefighters and 5,000 soldiers would also be deployed.

New Year’s Eve celebrations in the French capital will center on the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, including DJ sets, fireworks and video projections on the Arc de Triomphe, highlighting “changes in the city and faces of the Games,” according to the press service of the City of Paris. Other planned events include “the largest Mexican wave ever performed” and a “giant karaoke.”

New Year celebrations a ‘test’ for Paris ahead of 2024 Summer Olympics


The security challenge ahead of the Olympics was highlighted when a tourist was killed in a knife attack near the Eiffel Tower on Dec. 2. Large-scale attacks — such as that at the Bataclan in 2015, when Islamic extremists invaded the music hall and shot up cafe terraces, killing 130 people — also loom large.

In Berlin, some 4,500 police officers are expected to keep order and avoid riots like a year ago. Police in the German capital issued a ban on the traditional use of fire crackers for several streets across the city. They also banned a pro-Palestinian protest in the Neukoelln neighborhood of the city, which has seen several pro-Palestinian riots since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

In Russia, the country’s military actions in Ukraine have overshadowed end-of-year celebrations, with the usual fireworks and concert on Moscow’s Red Square canceled, as last year.

After shelling in the center of the Russian border city of Belgorod Saturday killed 24 people, some local authorities across Russia also canceled their usual firework displays, including in Vladivostok. Millions throughout Russia are expected to tune into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s New Year’s address.

In Muslim-majority Pakistan, the government has banned all New Year’s Eve celebrations as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians.

In an overnight televised message, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar urged Pakistanis to “show solidarity with the oppressed people of Gaza” by beginning the new year with simplicity.

Kakar said Muslims across the world were saddened over Israel’s attacks on Gaza that resulted in the killings of thousands of innocent people.

(AP)

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Italian general fired for homophobic remarks is sign Italy is changing

A general at the top of Italy’s armed forces bashed gay people in a recent publication. But LGBTQ+ activists and officers tell Euronews that, despite ongoing challenges, the situation is getting better for queer people in the army and the police.

In a controversial self-published book that has become an object of heated debate, Italy’s General Roberto Vannacci – one of the people at the very top of the country’s armed forces – bashed gay people, saying they were “not normal.”

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Vannacci was the head of the Italian paratroopers’ brigade and the Military Geographical Institute in Florence before being officially removed on Friday as the result of the homophobic, misogynistic, and racist statements contained in ‘The World Upside Down’, published some two weeks ago.

In the self-published book the general bashed environmentalists, feminists, Jewish people, Black Italians, and the LGBTQ+ community as the causes – according to him – of the problems afflicting the Italian society.

“Dear homosexuals, you’re not normal, get over it!,” he wrote. “Normality is heterosexuality. If everything seems normal to you, however, it is the fault of the plots of the international gay lobby which banned terms that until a few years ago were in our dictionaries.”

The fiery statements were immediately condemned by politicians and LGBTQ+ activists across the country, with Italy’s defence minister Guido Crosetto saying that the general discredited the army, the defence ministry, and the constitution.

“It’s disturbing that an army general, and so a person at the highest level of the army, can express a thought that’s so openly homophobic, racist, and mysoginistic,” Gabriele Piazzoni, Secretary General of the national LGBTQ+ nonprofit Arcigay, told Euronews.

“The armed forces must be inspired by the values of the Constitution,” he added. “This a democratic country, not a military dictatorship, and these statements cannot be tolerated.”

Vannacci’s punishment – with his removal from the two top positions he covered in the army – was what Piazzoni and Arcigay were calling for. 

It wasn’t an obvious outcome considering that the government currently ruling the country has been pushing forward policies reducing LGBTQ+ rights in the country, including limiting the parental rights of same-sex parents.

For Alessio Avellino, a trans police officer and the president of Polis Aperta, Italy’s first association for LGBTQ+ members of the armed forces and the police, Vannacci’s removal is a sign that Italy is making steps forward to make its armed forces more inclusive.

“Talking about this issue, we managed to get Vannacci removed from his post, a result that makes us happy,” Avellino told Euronews.

“In Italy, there’s a lot to do, really, really a lot. But we’re doing it.”

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‘There’s a lot of people who don’t think like Vannacci’

Avellino, one of the first trans police officers in Italy, doesn’t like focusing on the negatives when talking about the situation facing LGBTQ+ people in the armed forces and the police in the country.

While initially concerned that Vannacci’s statements might find support within the broader public, the 28-year-old officer said that he’s living proof that the armed forces and the police have gotten more inclusive in recent years.

“I’m a trans person, I’ve declared it, I’ve done my gender affirmation journey within the police and the community and I live a normal life within the department,” he said. “Like me, there’s another colleague within the prison police who’s decided to come out and has started his transition journey,” he continued.

“In the armed forces, there’s a guy who has never declared himself to be trans not to compromise his work, but everyone knows he’s a trans man and has kept his job.”

By law, new police officers in Italy must follow strict regulations when being sworn in, with men wearing trousers and women wearing a skirt. Avellino was allowed to wear trousers when sworn in in 2020, despite the fact that his official documents didn’t reflect his transition journey at the time and would have forced him to wear a skirt.

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“Many officers above me were understanding and let me wear trousers,” he said. “At the top, there are many people who have different opinions than Vannucci,” he added. “As always, people get to making progress before legislation catches up.”

Talking to La Repubblica, a gay officer who’s been serving in the army for 30 years confirmed that coming out at work, at the age of 50, had been hard for him – but added that the army has since then changed, as Avellino said about the police.

‘Still behind’

Piazzoni is less optimistic about the situation in the country.

“In the last decades Italy surely made some steps forward, but we’re still behind compared to other countries in Western Europe in recognising LGBTQ+ rights,” Piazzoni said.

“The fact that last year the country couldn’t approve the law on homotransphobia means that we still don’t have a law that specifically condemns discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation,” he added. 

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The sweeping legislation – called Ddl Zan – was passed by the lower chamber of Parliament in 2021, but was sunk by the Senate, with lawmakers defending the right to freedom of speech over the need to exacerbate punishments for discriminating against women, gays and lesbians, and trans people.

“This is a clear sign that the Italian institutions struggle to understand how to oppose this phenomenon, which in turn allows parts of the public opinion that discrimination can be legitimate,” Piazzoni added. 

Vannacci defended what he discussed in his book saying that it falls under his constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech. 

On Monday, after being removed from office, he still defended his statements, saying that gay people are “statistically abnormal.”

Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right party League – part of the rightwing coalition government – sided with Vannacci, saying on Monday that he refuses to have a “Big Brother telling people what to think” in Italy.

In a list of 49 European countries ranked by their efforts to protect and recognise LGBTQ+ rights compiled by international organisation ILGA-Europe earlier this year, Italy was 34.



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Facial recognition technology should be regulated, but not banned

By Tony Porter, Chief Privacy Officer, Corsight AI, and Dr Nicole Benjamin Fink, Founder, Conservation Beyond Borders

The European Commission has proven itself to be an effective regulator in the past. A blanket ban on FRT in law enforcement will only benefit the criminals, Tony Porter and Dr Nicole Benjamin Fink write.

The EU’s AI Act passed a major hurdle in mid-June when the bloc’s lawmakers greenlit what will be the world’s first rules on artificial intelligence. 

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But one proposal stands apart: a total ban on facial recognition technology, or FRT. 

If left to stand, this rule will blindfold the law enforcers who do vital work to protect the most vulnerable in society. It will embolden criminal groups such as those who traffic wildlife and human victims, thereby putting lives at risk.

All surveillance capabilities intrude on human rights to some extent. The question is whether we can regulate the use of FRT effectively to mitigate any impact on these rights. 

Protecting privacy versus protecting people is a balance EU lawmakers can and must strike. A blanket ban is the easy, but not the responsible option.

Privacy concerns should face a reality check

MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on the use of live FRT in publicly accessible spaces, and a similar ban on the use of “after the event” FRT unless a judicial order is obtained. 

Now attention has shifted to no doubt heated trilogue negotiations between the European Parliament, European Council and member states.

FRT in essence uses cameras powered by AI algorithms to analyse a person’s facial features, potentially enabling authorities to match individuals against a database of pre-existing images, in order to identify them. 

Privacy campaigners have long argued that the potential benefits of using such tech are not worth the negative impact on human rights. But many of those arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny. in fact, they’re based on conclusively debunked myths.

The first is that the tech is inaccurate and that it disproportionately disadvantages people of colour. 

That may have been true of very early iterations of the technology, but it certainly isn’t today. Corsight has been benchmarked by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to an accuracy rate of 99.8%, for example. 

Separately, a 2020 NIST report claimed that FRT performs far more effectively across racial and other demographic groups than widely reported, with the most accurate technologies displaying “undetectable” differences between groups.

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It’s also falsely claimed that FRT is ineffective. In fact, Interpol said in 2021 that it had been able to identify almost 1,500 terrorists, criminals, fugitives, persons of interest and missing persons since 2016 using FRT. That figure is expected to have risen exponentially since.

A final myth, that FRT intrudes on human rights as enshrined by the European Convention of the same name, was effectively shot down by the Court of Appeal in London. In that 2020 case, judges ruled that scanning faces and instantly deleting the data if a match can’t be found has a negligible impact on human rights.

It’s about stopping the traffickers

On the other hand, if used in compliance with strict regulations, high-quality FRT has the capacity to save countless lives and protect people and communities from harm. 

Human trafficking is a trade in misery which enables sexual exploitation, forced labour and other heinous crimes. It’s estimated to affect tens of millions around the world, including children. 

But if facial images of known victims or traffickers are caught on camera, police could be alerted in real-time to step in. 

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Given that traffickers usually go to great lengths to hide their identity, and that victims — especially children — rarely possess official IDs, FRT offers a rare opportunity to make a difference.

Wildlife trafficking is similarly clandestine. It’s a global trade estimated many years ago at €20.9 billion — the world’s fourth biggest illegal activity behind arms, drugs and human trafficking. 

With much of the trade carried out by criminal syndicates online, there’s a potential evidence trail if investigators can match facial images of trafficked animals to images posted later to social media. 

Buyers can then be questioned as to whom they procured a particular animal from. Apps are already springing up to help track wildlife traffickers in this way.

There is a better way forward

Given what’s at stake here, European lawmakers should be thinking about ways to leverage a technology proven to help reduce societal harm — but in a way that mitigates risks to human rights. 

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The good news is that it can be done with the right regulatory guardrails. In fact, the EU’s AI Act already provides a great foundation for this, by proposing a standard of excellence for AI technologies which FRT could be held to.

Building on this, FRT should be retained as an operation tool wherever there’s a “substantial” risk to the public and a legitimate basis for protecting citizens from harm.

Its use should always be necessary and proportionate to that pressing need, and subject to a rigorous human rights assessment. 

Independent ethical and regulatory oversight must of course be applied, with a centralized supervisory authority put in place. And clear policies should be published setting out details of the proposed use. 

Impacted communities should be consulted and data published detailing the success or failure of deployments and human rights assessments.

The European Commission has proven itself to be an effective regulator in the past. So, let’s regulate FRT. A blanket ban will only benefit the criminals.

Tony Porter is the Chief Privacy Officer at Corsight AI and the former UK Surveillance Camera Commissioner, and Dr Nicole Benjamin Fink is the Founder of Conservation Beyond Borders.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Arrests highlight the growing ‘criminalisation’ of LGBT+ people in Venezuela

Thirty-three people were arrested in a popular spot among the LGBT+ community in Valencia, Venezuela on July 23. After the arrest, the people’s names, photos and ID cards were shared in the media and online. Since being released, they are still awaiting legal proceedings. Venezuelan associations have denounced what they see as a growing trend of “criminalisation” of LGBT+ individuals and institutionalised homophobia in Venezuela. 

Issued on:

4 min

On July 23, police arrested 33 people at the Avalon Man Club, a private sauna and spa frequented by the LGBT+ community in Valencia, in the northern Venezuelan state of Carabobo. The operation was allegedly carried out after an anonymous tip-off.

The people were taken to the police station, where they were photographed lined up along a wall. Police photographed their belongings, including identity papers, mobile phones and condoms. These images were shared in the local media and on social networks with their identities left unredacted. Their names and ages were shared publicly as well. 

These photos of the 33 people arrested in Valencia, Venezuela, on July 23 were distributed without redaction (black bars added by the FRANCE 24 Observers team). Observers

This photo showed the mobile phones and identity documents of the people arrested in Valencia, Venezuela, on July 23, as well as condoms. Blurring added by the FRANCE 24 Observers team.
This photo showed the mobile phones and identity documents of the people arrested in Valencia, Venezuela, on July 23, as well as condoms. Blurring added by the FRANCE 24 Observers team. Observers

‘The police and local media have stigmatised and criminalised them’

Jau Ramírez is the director of SOMOS, a movement working for the rights of sexual minorities in Venezuela.

These 33 people were arrested arbitrarily, without a judicial warrant or search warrant. What’s more, the police and local media then spread personal information about them and declared that one of them had HIV, in order to stigmatise them, criminalise them, give the impression that they were a danger to society, and thus justify the violation of their rights. At first, it was even said that they were taking part in an orgy and filming pornographic scenes…

A number of journalists’ organisations have also criticised the way in which certain media outlets have handled the case, adopting all the information provided by the police.

On Twitter, the National College of Journalists (CNP) said that “reproducing information that stigmatises and denigrates the people involved” was a “violation of human rights”, and pointed out that the media should “respect the presumption of innocence and protect the identity of anyone accused of illegal acts”.


In this video broadcast on July 26, the men arrested in Valencia are transported by the police in pick-ups.

Charged with, among other things, public indecency

On July 26, the 33 people were taken to the Valencia courthouse. The court upheld three charges brought by the public prosecutor against them: public indecency – an offence punishable by several months in prison – as well as unlawful association and noise pollution. At the end of the hearing, 30 of them were released, but with the obligation to report to the authorities every 30 days.


“Justice, justice”, chanted people gathered outside the Valencia courthouse as the arrested men got off a bus on July 25, the date initially scheduled for the hearing.


“There is no crime”, shout the protesters gathered outside the Valencia courthouse on July 26 to demand the release of the 33 men.

On August 2, the three others – the owner of the establishment and two employees – were also released. They too have to report back every 30 days.

But things did not end there. The charges against them have not been dismissed, despite demands from activists. On August 1, the public prosecutor announced that the case could possibly be dismissed. 

‘The current situation sets a legal precedent’

Jau Ramírez continued: 

Between January 2021 and December 2022, we documented 11 arbitrary arrests of LGBTIQ+ people, carried out by the security forces. In four cases, they were accompanied by extortion, physical, verbal and psychological violence and acts of torture. There were also four police raids on LGBTIQ+ leisure facilities in Caracas, Maracaibo and Mérida. 

So the case of the 33 people arrested is not a first. But in previous cases, the people were released after a few hours, without being reported to the police or charged with any offence. In this case, the people have remained in detention for a long time, without any justification, and the charges against them are unclear and questionable. 

We therefore consider that the current situation set a legal precedent. We haven’t seen anything like this in Venezuela since the late 1990s. Since the beginning of this case, the police and judiciary have acted in a homophobic manner, with the aim of criminalising LGBTIQ+ people.

This escalation of repression is a threat to the fundamental rights and sexual and personal freedoms of everyone in Venezuela.


Rally on July 28 in Caracas to ” demand an end to the criminalisation of people from the #LGBTIQ+ community in Venezuela”.

Closer links between the authorities and evangelicals

For Jau Ramírez, this repression goes hand in hand with “the interference of ultra-religious groups and their dogmatism in state institutions”. He cites a few examples:

In 2019, President Nicolás Maduro created the National Day of the Evangelical Pastor. In 2022, his son was appointed vice president of religious affairs within the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, a new position. In 2023, Nicolás Maduro also created the “My well-equipped church” programme [Editor’s note: equipping evangelical groups with seats, fans, microphones, etc.].

Nicolás Maduro has recently forged closer ties to certain evangelical sectors, which have been very active in opposing the rights of the LGBT+ community. In July, the government decided that religious groups would be consulted on any legislative initiative involving the family. This rapprochement is part of a “political strategy” with a view to 2024 and the presidential election, according to the Spanish daily El País. 

Venezuela’s LGBT+ community has been fighting for years against discrimination and for access to equal rights, including marriage for all. In March 2023, the courts overturned a provision that provided for a prison sentence of between one and three years for military personnel accused of “unnatural sexual acts”. 



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Protesters in Georgia drive away Russian cruise ship, allege violent police response

After two days of demonstrations, protesters in Georgia forced out the Russian cruise ship Astoria Grande, which had been docked at a Black Sea port in the southwest of the country. Police responded by using force on protesters, who cited their disapproval of the cruise ship’s passengers’ views on Russian policies in Ukraine and Georgia. According to our Observer, the clashes highlight a disparity between the Georgian government and the population’s stance on Russia.

Issued on: Modified:

4 min

The Russian cruise ship Astoria Grande stopped at Georgia’s Batumi port on the Black Sea for the first time on July 26. Hundreds of Georgians met it with anti-Russian signs, determined to stop the 800 tourists aboard from disembarking.

Protesters were even more incensed to learn that Russian television personalities who spoke in support of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine were among the tourists on board. 

When they were interviewed by Georgian media on their arrival, some passengers declared that the 2008 Russian war against Georgia “liberated” Abkhazia, an autonomous republic and state recognised by only seven countries in the world, that is a breakaway region bordering Russia considered occupied territory by Georgian law. These statements, as well as deliberate provocations, rallied more people against the cruise ship.

The ship left port early on July 27, but returned on July 31 only to be met once again by demonstrators. The protesters threw eggs and plastic bottles at the minibuses taking Russian tourists on the ship. 

The cruise operator told Russian media RBC that Batumi was no longer a destination for the Astoria Grande. 


Video taken by Tazo Makharadze during the protest in Batumi on August 31.

‘We won this battle. But the struggle continues’

Tazo Makharadze is the cofounder of the association Dafion, a pro-European youth movement. He launched the call for protest against the cruise ship on both days. 

The gathering of people in Batumi started when the Russian cruise arrived in Batumi and the “guests” on the cruise insulted our territorial integrity and said that Abkhazia and Samachablo were not Georgian. 

Soon after, I posted an appeal calling on people to come out and protest this disparity. Other organisations were involved besides us. And most importantly, completely nonpartisan people took part in this protest, and this means that these sentiments are present in the people. 

The protests were mostly self-organised, because this is the mood of the people right now and they don’t want Russia. More than 20 percent of our country is occupied by Russia. Despite this, our government pursues a pro-Russian policy. That’s why Georgian youths often have to stand on the street and protest these disparities. 

We won this battle and drove out the occupiers ahead of time. But the struggle continues.


Hundreds of people gathered in the port of Batumi on August 31. The police intervened to allow the passage of minibuses transporting Russian tourists to the ship.

Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of “Georgian Dream”, the majority party in the Georgian parliament, publicly condemned the protests on August 1. 

“Hypocrisy and the double standard of pseudo-anti-Russians clearly indicate that all political provocations, including the rally held yesterday in Batumi, are dictated only by anti-state political goals and external influence,” Kobakhidze said. 

He added that cruise ships provide tourist revenues to the country.

‘The participants of the rally did not comply with their legal demands’

The police intervened to provide safe passage to tourists and used violence against protesters, according to eyewitnesses. At least 23 people were detained on July 31. Among them are well-known activists and a local leader of the opposition party Droa. 

The Georgian ministry of interior released a statement about the protests in Batumi on July 31:  

“Despite numerous calls by law enforcement officers at the port of Batumi, the participants of the rally did not comply with their legal demands […]. We call on the participants of the rally not to go beyond the limits of the freedom of assembly and expression allowed by law.”

The police did not make any further official declarations following the departing of the cruise ship. Our team tried to contact the Georgian police and the regional police section in Batumi for a comment, but did not receive a response. 

‘There was no reason for violence. People were arrested because of fear’

Tazo Makharadze told us that the police violence was exaggerated. 

The police intervened when we did not allow the Russian tourists to get off the cruise. They physically assaulted the protesters. There was a case when a fallen person was kicked in the leg. There was no reason for violence.


The police attempted to move protestors out of the way to let minibuses with Russian tourists pass

Multiple legal associations declared that pre-trial detention was used in an abusive way. Some detainees stated that the police were physically violent even after they were arrested. One Ukrainian protester that was arrested had to be transferred to the hospital because of her injuries. 

‘Police violated protesters’ rights to freedom of expression’

While arrested protesters have the right to see their lawyer right away, information about the identity of the detained as well as on the location of their detention was released only in the late evening of July 31, according to a press statement by the Association of Young Lawyers of Georgia (GYLA).  

The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to a representative from Union Sapari, one of the volunteer legal associations that is striving to prove that protesters were illegally detained

The police arrested the protesters under traditional articles, which they always use in similar cases: petty hooliganism and disobedience to the request of the policeman. 

Police violated protesters’ rights to freedom of expression. The three people we are representing have been detained already for 48 hours and several of them are injured. We are collecting the video archives of the detention and disputing the detention in the court as illegal.


A video posted on Twitter on August 1 shows the Georgian police violently arresting a Ukrainian demonstrator. While in detention she had to be transferred to the hospital.

Several police officers are under investigation for engaging in abusive behaviour, as stated by the Georgian Special Investigative Service on August 1. 

As of August 3, 15 protesters have been released on bail. At least eight protesters remain in detention, where they have been held for longer than 48 hours – the maximum term of pre-trial detention under Georgian law. 



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Macron walks tightrope as French police protest challenges rule of law

French President Emmanuel Macron has declined to condemn the country’s top police chiefs for appearing to suggest officers were above the law, seeking to stave off unrest among security forces wearied by repeated bouts of street violence. Critics, however, lament a missed opportunity to reassert the state’s authority over an increasingly restless police force.

Just weeks after the police killing of 17-year-old Nahel M. kicked off massive riots across France, the country’s top police official sparked a fresh row on Sunday by slamming the decision to jail an officer whose actions during the unrest are being investigated. 

The controversial remarks by national police chief Frédéric Veaux were aimed at staving off a revolt in the southern city of Marseille, where officers have staged a rare walkout in protest at a court decision to remand one of their colleagues in custody. 

Police clash with protesters in the streets of Nanterre, near Paris, on June 30, 2023, following the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Nahel M. © Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters

The jailed policeman is one of four officers placed under investigation over the alleged beating of a 21-year-old man of North African origin, who has undergone multiple surgical procedures and had part of his skull removed after what he said was a deliberate attack by police using an LBD blast-ball gun. 

“Knowing that (the officer) is in prison stops me from sleeping,” Veaux said in an interview with French daily Le Parisien, after travelling to Marseille to bring a message of support to police from Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin

“In general, I believe that ahead of a possible trial, a police officer should not be in prison, even if he may have committed serious faults or errors in the course of his work,” Veaux added in remarks backed by Paris police chief Laurent Nunez, France’s second-highest-ranking officer. 

The comments promptly raised eyebrows among members of the judiciary, who denounced an attack on their independence and the principle of equality before the law. 

Cécile Mamelin, the vice president of the Union of Magistrates, described Veaux’s words as “scandalous” and “extremely serious in a state of law”, while Marseille’s top judge Olivier Leurent issued a statement urging “restraint so that the judiciary can pursue the investigation (…) free from pressure and in complete impartiality”. 

Macron on the police in France


Meanwhile, the left-wing opposition blasted the government for failing to rein in “a police hierarchy that places itself above the law”.  

Macron’s balancing act 

France’s latest policing dispute caught up with Macron as he touched down in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia on Monday, some 16,000 kilometres away, for the start of an Indo-Pacific tour. 

The French president steered clear of commenting both on Veaux’s remarks and the judicial decision to remand the officer in custody. Pressed for a response, he stressed that “no one in the Republic is above the law” and that the police “obviously (…) fall under the law”. 

Above all, Macron praised police in the face of “an unprecedented surge of violence” during the riots, in which some 900 law enforcement officers were injured. He said he understood “the emotions of our officers”, adding that they “must be heard while respecting the rule of law”. 

Read moreMacron government shifts stance on police violence to quell unrest after death of teen

His choice of words reflected the government’s concern at the mounting anguish voiced by police after a gruelling year marked by rioting and sometimes violent protests, said Jean-Marc Berlière, a historian of the French police. 

“There is widespread discontent and a sense of injustice among police officers who feel that they are sacrificing their lives and well-being to maintain public order – while being finger-pointed and reprimanded in return,” Berlière said. 

He cited the increasingly vocal criticism of police’s heavy-handed tactics, both at home and from abroad, which has seen rights groups, the Council of Europe and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association each voice their concern at French police’s “excessive use of force” in tackling protests against Macron’s deeply unpopular pension reform, which the government rammed through parliament in March without a vote. 

While police cannot go on strike, Berlière added, “the government is also well aware of the risk of further roiling a police force that is still perfectly capable of paralysing law enforcement.” 


Over the past week, several hundred police officers in Marseille have gone on sick leave in protest over their colleague’s detention, according to unnamed union sources. Others have put themselves under so-called “code 562”, which means that they only respond to emergency and essential missions. 

While the exact numbers are not known, they are sufficiently high to alarm the authorities in Paris, said Berlière.

“In recent months, the government has already seen its legitimacy challenged by street protesters and parts of the opposition,” he said. “It cannot afford a challenge from the police, too.”   

Seeking to stave off further unrest in the ranks, France’s interior minister on Thursday said he understood the frustration and anger voiced by overworked security forces after repeated bouts of street violence.

“I want to say that I can understand this fatigue, sadness and emotion,” Darmanin said before heading into a meeting with police union representatives. He also urged police not to let down the population and serve the public interest.

A crisis of authority 

Critics of Macron’s cautious response have argued that it trivialises what amounts to a serious challenge to the rule of law. 

In an editorial on Wednesday, French daily Le Monde described the president’s stance as an “admission of weakness” in the face of a police force that “is becoming increasingly difficult to control”. 

A noted police expert, Sebastian Roché, tweeted his concern about what is at stake, warning that the police chiefs’ comments undermined the “cardinal principle” of equality before the law. 

In an interview with investigative weekly Mediapart, Roché said Macron’s words left the impression that “he doesn’t really know, or at best doesn’t appreciate, the extent of this unprecedented transgression under the Fifth Republic”. 

The president’s refusal to comment on Veaux’s remarks “reflects his political weakness and fragility”, he added. “It’s as if he were saying ‘I’m not in charge’.” 

Speaking to FRANCE 24 at the height of the pension unrest earlier this year, Roché described the police crackdown on protests as a consequence of both a French policing tradition and the government’s fragility. 

Heavy-handed policing stems from the “crisis of authority” undermining Macron’s minority and deeply unpopular government, Roché explained. “When a government chooses force it is always because its authority is weakened,” he added. 

Read moreUse of force signals ‘crisis of authority’ as France’s pension battle turns to unrest

Echoing such views, political analyst Emmanuel Blanchard argued in an interview with left-leaning daily Libération that the government’s reliance on law enforcement to quell social unrest “has weakened its position in relation to the police”. 

“It’s a cyclical trend: the less popular legitimacy the government enjoys, the more it relies on the forces of law and order, which it needs to suppress social movements,” Blanchard explained. “So it gives them (the police) guarantees. This leads to forms of empowerment, which can lead to protests like the one we are currently seeing.” 

A history of unrest   

France has a long history of police protests and unrest – one governments are well aware of. 

“Contrary to what is commonly assumed, the police are not always a passive and obedient instrument in the hands of the executive power,” Berlière noted. “One doesn’t have to be a historian to have some idea of the perils for a government of alienating law enforcement.” 

In 1958, widespread police unrest helped precipitate the fall of the troubled Fourth Republic, a parliamentarian regime that was replaced by the current presidential system instituted by World War II hero Charles de Gaulle

Decades later, in March 1983, some 2,000 officers marched on the justice ministry in Paris calling for the removal of Robert Badinter, the justice minister who helped abolish the death penalty and whom they deemed soft on crime. That move backfired, however, as then-president François Mitterrand swiftly moved to dismiss France’s top police chiefs and punish union leaders. 

“If certain police officers, an active minority, have failed in their duty, the duty of those in charge of the Republic is to strike and ensure that the authority of the state is respected,” Mitterrand said in televised remarks that have resurfaced on social media in recent days, posted by critics of Macron’s more cautious approach. 

Such comparisons have little pertinence, Berlière argued, pointing to widely differing contexts. 

“Back in 1983 there were no riots and no street protests to be wary of,” he said. “And while the revolt against Badinter was led by a fringe, far-right union, Macron and his government are aware that hardline unions are more powerful today and that the officers’ protest in Marseille is broadly supported.” 

One thing that hasn’t changed is the longstanding animosity between the police and the judiciary, which has underpinned this and other disputes. 

In May 2021, police unions vented their anger at the justice system during a rally outside the National Assembly in Paris, attended by politicians of all stripes. Union leaders could be heard stating that “the police’s problem is the judiciary” and calling for “constitutional constraints” to be “breached”. 

Police protesters rally outside the National Assembly in Paris on May 19, 2021, venting their anger at a judiciary they deem too lax.
Police protesters rally outside the National Assembly in Paris on May 19, 2021, venting their anger at a judiciary they deem too lax. © Thomas Coex, AFP

Police unions routinely accuse the judges of being too lenient with criminals and too harsh with officers. Magistrates’ unions, meanwhile, accuse police authorities of “hijacking” the judiciary to repress protest movements, notably through the use of arbitrary or “preventive” arrests that seldom lead to prosecution. 

The comments by Veaux and Nunez, France’s most senior police officials, take the dispute to a new level, reflecting the police hierarchy’s concern to appear in step with an increasingly disgruntled – and radicalised – base. 

“Many in the police perceive the decision to jail their colleague in Marseille as a case of judges abusing their powers and seeking to settle scores,” said Berlière, noting that officers are seldom remanded in custody pending a trial. 

“As for magistrates, they see the police action as a form of interference with the judiciary and of disregard for the separation of powers,” he added. 

‘Worrying silence’ 

In its editorial on Wednesday, Le Monde said Veaux’s remarks threatened to open “a new chapter in the war between police and the judiciary”, while also “calling into question the principles of the rule of law, namely the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers and equality before the law”. 

In such a context, the newspaper expressed concern at the government’s “worrying silence”. 

Éric Dupond-Moretti, the justice minister, waited until Macron’s comments before tweeting that the independence of judicial officials is “an indispensable condition for respect of the rule of law”. 

His colleague at the interior ministry, who is Veaux’s direct boss, waited a full week before breaking his silence on the matter. In his comments on Thursday, Darmanin expressed support for the police chief, whose remarks in Le Parisien had been approved by the minister’s cabinet.

“Police officers cannot be the only people in France for whom presumption of innocence (…) is replaced by a presumption of guilt,” the minister told reporters outside a police station in Paris, in remarks that a representative body of French magistrates promptly described as an “alarming” attack on the judiciary’s “impartiality”.

Darmanin later told police unions he would examine their demands for greater protection for officers, including those facing legal investigations. He also pledged to visit Marseille in the coming days to express support for police in the southern city plagued by gang violence.

Overall, Macron and his ministers appear more concerned to “calm things down” than to reassert the state’s authority over the police, Le Monde wrote, pointing to a delicate balancing act as France prepares to host a series of major sporting events. 

With the country set to host the Rugby World Cup from September and the Olympic Games next year, Macron “certainly cannot afford the luxury of an open crisis with those who maintain public order”, the paper noted. 

But the president’s decision to shirk a fight will do little to appease the wider nation and address the root causes of urban riots in France, Le Monde cautioned, noting that the worst cases of rioting this century have been triggered by police blunders and that the country “is suffering from a very poor relationship between the police and a section of the population”. 



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Amateur videos show Turkish police violence against African migrants

Amateur videos sent to the FRANCE 24 Observers team show police in Turkey stopping and questioning African migrants as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration. The videos, sent in by migrants from Senegal, Cameroon, Guinea and Angola, show officers shouting at the migrants and in some cases using physical violence against them. A Senegalese man seen in one of the videos being slapped by a police officer told the FRANCE 24 Observers he was in Turkey legally.

Issued on: Modified:

4 min

 

Turkish authorities launched the crackdown at the beginning of July. Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said in an interview published July 9 that fighting illegal immigration is one of his main priorities, and that police in Istanbul and all of Turkey’s 81 provinces were intensifying their efforts to stop and detain people in the country illegally.

In Istanbul, police on July 4 started a series of evening and nighttime sweeps focusing on entertainment venues and public spaces. They reported detaining 3,535 people in the first week on suspicion of entering Turkey illegally, working without authorisation, or overstaying their visas.

Videos sent to The Observers by African migrants living in Turkey suggest that the police conduct is often violent and discriminatory.  

One video sent by migrants from Senegal and Guinea shows the police pinning down an African man in the middle of a crowd. The officers were not wearing uniforms, but they had handcuffs on them. The victim asked for his phone several times which angered the policeman holding him down. The officer shouted at him and then slapped him.

 


In this video, sent by African migrants to the France 24 Observers via WhatsApp and also posted on Twitter, a Senegalese hair salon owner is seen being slapped by a Turkish police officer after being stopped for an immigration check. The Senegalese man told the France 24 Observers his residency permit was being renewed.

 

 

 

The incident took place in Istanbul on July 19. By using Google Maps imagery, the Observers team managed to determine that it took place at the entrance to the underground mall AVM. Several Western African migrants living in Istanbul confirmed the location. 

The surrounding neighbourhood, Aksaray, is known for the abundance of African-run clothes shops and markets. 

‘Every time policemen see me they ask for my papers’

The Observers team managed to identify and contact the man seen in the video: Mohamed Preira is originally from Senegal, he moved to Turkey in 2019 and now owns a hair salon in Aksaray. He said he was on his way to his salon when he was stopped by the police. He told them he did not have a residency permit on him because it was being renewed. 

They took my phone, my money. They put me in a car and drove me to a spot where they let me go. Even they themselves know that they don’t have the right to arrest me. I can’t even file a complaint against them.

I filed my documents [to renew my residency status] and I was given a receipt. I am in the process of getting the documents so I have the right to live here. 

It’s not the first time I’ve been stopped. Every time policemen see me they ask for my papers. But these policemen were just racist. Now my whole body hurts. 

I have my own hair salon in Istanbul. I pay my rent. But they still harass me. It’s gotten worse. There are more and more check-ups. Now I’m thinking of going back to Senegal. Living in another country without peace, without money, it’s too hard.

The Observers received multiple videos showing the use of force by the police. One of the videos, also posted on Twitter, shows two uniformed policemen holding an African migrant while a third officer can be seen pushing his head downwards. As they walk him away, the third policeman apparently mocks the victim, clapping in his face. 

Several African migrants told The Observers that the incident took place in the Esenyurt neighbourhood of Istanbul. Satellite imagery appears to confirm the location, but the FRANCE 24 Observers team was unable to contact the man who was detained.

‘We were treated like criminals for not having the papers they refused to give us’

In November 2022 a report by Human Rights Watch found that migrants detained in Turkey without papers were often held in overcrowded detention centres, with inadequate access to legal support and their families. 

“Cédric,” a Cameroonian man who spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers on condition of anonymity, was arrested in Istanbul in December 2022 while awaiting an update of his residency status. He provided the following account: 

There were 12 of us being held in rooms designed for six people. We were supposed to have the right to talk to our families, but they took our phones. The conditions were horrible. I saw a lot of suicides. We were treated like criminals for not having the papers they refused to give us. They don’t let you have your own lawyers. They only allow you to see their lawyers.

Cédric said he was allowed to leave the centre after two months and was given a document that only allowed him to live in Bartin, a small town 400km from Istanbul. But he didn’t stay: “There were no opportunities there and the people were racist, so I went back to Istanbul.”

‘Migrants of all nationalities face many human rights violations’

Mahmut Kaçan, a Turkish lawyer specialised in migration, says the country’s immigration system has become more restrictive in the past two years. 

For the past two years, whether you are a regular or an irregular migrant, asylum applications have not been accepted

In the past few years, and during the [May 2023] elections there has been a debate. The current government as well as the opposition claim that they will deport all refugees. 

Migrants of all nationalities face many human rights violations. I receive such complaints but since they are not properly registered, they are not able to file complaints and contact NGOs.



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Kinshasa residents terrified by rising number of public transportation kidnappings

Twenty-seven people in the Democratic Republic of Congo were sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping passengers who had the misfortune of getting into their fake taxis. But despite this mass sentencing, which took place between July 5 and 7, people in Kinshasa are still terrified by the rising number of kidnappings taking place on public transport. The police, however, are downplaying the alarming situation, calling them “ordinary security issues”.

Twenty-seven people were sentenced to death, only to have their sentences commuted to life in prison, at the end of a kidnapping trial that took place between July 5 and 7 in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – where capital punishment is no longer carried out. The members of this kidnapping network, which included four police officers, were found guilty of kidnapping a number of locals who climbed into their fake taxis, stealing their valuables and holding them for ransom. The group was also found responsible for killing a number of their victims.

The case has been extensively covered by the Congolese media. Images of the arrests were circulated online. The police also organised a strange sort of press conference where they lined up the 27 people arrested to show them off to the press and the Ministry of the Interior (videos on Facebook and TikTok). 

 

“They drugged me with a handkerchief and then beat me”

Romulus Mwamba works as an independent tour operator and lives in the Limete neighborhood. He believes that the group recently sentenced to prison are just a “tiny percentage” of the kidnappers operating in the capital. He should know. Mwamba was kidnapped on July 1 and survived a terrifying ordeal – and he didn’t recognise any of his attackers among those convicted. 

I was coming back from a meeting with a client in the Kasa-Vubu neighborhood and I got into a communal taxi in Victoire to head to my next meeting. It was nearly full. There were two boys and a girl in the third row and two hefty guys in the second row. I got in front. Very soon after we set off, I realised that I wasn’t going towards the right address. 

Mwamba decided to text his brother-in-law. 

“I’m in a taxi and I don’t feel safe,” he messaged him on WhatsApp.

 

This is the message sent by Romulus Mwamba (nicknamed Romy) to his brother-in-law on July 1. In the message, he says that he doesn’t feel safe. © Observers

Romy also managed to film a quick video of the people in the vehicule, which he also sent to his brother-in-law. 

 

La vidéo envoyée par Romulus Mwamba à son beau-frère le 1er juillet.
La vidéo envoyée par Romulus Mwamba à son beau-frère le 1er juillet. © Observateurs

 

However, at one point, the man next to me noticed that I was filming. He took my phone and threw it on the ground, trying to break it. I tried to break a window and started making noise to get people’s attention. But I didn’t manage to struggle for long because the people behind me grabbed me and drugged me with a handkerchief. Then they put me in the back so they could beat me up. 

Mwamba woke up several hours later. He was lying on the side of the road in a town called Maluku, more than an hour and a half away from his departure point. He was covered in bruises. A passerby helped him to call his family, who came to pick him up.

They stole my house keys, my watch, my sneakers and my wallet, which contained a large sum of money belonging to my client. Thankfully, he was understanding.  

Since then, his family has filed a complaint with the authorities. Mwamba is terrified to take public transportation. 

What happened to me was in the middle of the day, with lots of people around. Since then, I don’t want to leave my house. 

“I tried to say to them, ‘let me live, take my car’ but I couldn’t get it out”

The issue of kidnappings taking place in public transportation isn’t new. In early 2022, Jeannot Kabuayi [Editor’s note: this is a pseudonym, used because the investigation is still underway] fell victim to an attempted kidnapping. This time, the modus operandi was a bit different:

I was driving alone around 1am along the 30-Juin boulevard in the centre of town when I came across a taxi ketch [Editor’s note: a type of communal taxi common in Kinshasa.] Inside, there was a woman doubled over in pain along with two young men. I stopped and asked what was going on. They told me that they were bringing the young woman to the hospital but that the taxi had broken down. They asked if I could bring her to Diamant hospital. Acting as a good Samaritan, I agreed to take her.

A few seconds later, Jeannot was being strangled by an electrical cord around his neck, cutting into his flesh. The people tried to take his car.

I tried to say to them, “let me live, take my car” but I couldn’t get it out. Finally, they got ahold of the steering wheel but I hit the button to cut the motor. We lost control of the car and ended up in a ditch on the side of the road. A jeep full of police officers pulled up but the criminals got out of the car and climbed back into the ketch, which had been following us, and left. 

They stole all of the valuables that Kabuayi had with him. He wasn’t able to pick up his wrecked car until the next day, after getting a check-up at the hospital. 

This is a screengrab of a video of Kabuayi’s car the day after he was attacked. “This papa [Editor’s note: older man] is protected by God,” says a woman in Lingala.
This is a screengrab of a video of Kabuayi’s car the day after he was attacked. “This papa [Editor’s note: older man] is protected by God,” says a woman in Lingala. © Observers

Kabuayi still has a scar around his neck where the cord cut into his flesh. He no longer wants to take a ketch or help anyone in distress on the road. He filed a complaint with the authorities but no charges have been filed. 

Kabuayi shows the scar on his neck that he got when he was attacked and choked.
Kabuayi shows the scar on his neck that he got when he was attacked and choked. © Observers

 

“When the bus started, about half of the people on board got out weapons”

Kidnappings are also taking place on the city’s minibuses. Another Kinshasa resident, who wanted to remain anonymous for safety reasons, told us about what happened to his friend in late June. She was kidnapped from a minibus in the Masina neighborhood on the east side of town.

There were 12 of them in the minibus. When the bus started, about half of the people on board got out weapons. They told everyone else to put their hands in the air before covering people with clothing so they couldn’t see where they were going.  

The young woman managed to send him a panicked voice message. He shared it with our team. 

“Please, pray for me. […] I just lifted up the sheet to record this message and I already sent it to the big sister, to everyone. We were headed towards Kapela [Editor’s note: a neighbourhood in the western part of Kinshasa], […] We are still going, I don’t know where we are.” 

She sent that message at about 5pm. After that, he wasn’t able to contact her. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that she reappeared back in her neighbourhood. She said she was finally released around 4am. 

She was blindfolded and he [the kidnapper] took her by the hand. “Keep going, if you turn around, I will kill you,” he said. She was dropped in a deserted location and it took her ages to walk back to her house.

A growing fear about public transportation in Kinshasa

Stories of kidnappings as well the extensive media coverage of the trial of the 27 kidnappers has created growing fear among the population about using public transportation. Some people have started filming whenever they are in a taxi as a security measure. 

The video below shows a man hailing a taxi in the north of Kinshasa. He examines the other passengers and sees that there is only one open spot inside. He refuses to get in and the driver drives off. 

“When kidnappers get shun[ned]”, commented Cedoux Muke, the person who filmed this video. Our team spoke to him and he said he was sure that he narrowly avoided kidnappers even though he doesn’t have proof. 

“That taxi didn’t have plates and the people inside seemed strange to me,” he said. 

 

Muke says that the growing fear about kidnappings has led, in some cases, to mob justice in his neighbourhood, Kimbanseke. 

On July 7, police in my neighbourhood arrested a mama [Editor’s note: name used to refer to an older woman] with seven children in her car. She was accused of working with the driver to try and kidnap them. A lot of people tried to get her out of the police’s grasp in order to beat her up. 

The recent spate of kidnappings has also fed into rumours of organ trafficking. Terrified people are sharing information about these rumours in WhatsApp groups, often citing as “proof” videos taken out of context showing people cut up as if to extract organs. One of the videos that has been circulating was not filmed in the DRC – it shows the revenge killing of a police officer and his son carried out by a Mexican cartel, and has been circulating online for years. 

 

Nothing but “ordinary security issues,” according to police 

On July 4, Information Minister Patrick Muyaya told people “not to fall victim to rumours” about what he called “ordinary security issues”.

“The police is working day and night to make sure that the criminals, wherever they operate, are captured,” he said. “That’s also the case for kidnappers.” He added that police hadn’t seen proof of “organ trafficking, which is being talked about on social media and in certain circles”.

Police in Kinshasa reported a dozen or so cases of kidnappings from public transport in June alone. It is likely that more occurred but were not reported.  

Our team contacted the head of police in Kinshasa but didn’t get a response. 

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Morality police patrols return to Iran’s streets after 10 months

Nearly 10 months after Iran’s so-called “morality police” disappeared from the streets during mass protests over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, the Iranian police announced July 16 that they had resumed patrols targeting “immoral clothing.” Amateur videos and first-hand reports from our Observers in Iran indicate that the patrols had resumed in the days before the announcement. But with many Iranian women having gotten used to going out with their heads uncovered in recent months, it remains unclear whether the patrols will be able to stop them. 

Issued on:

5 min

Amini, 22, was arrested by members of Iran’s Guidance Patrol on September 13, 2022 for allegedly not wearing a headscarf, and died three days later. Her death sparked months of mass protests that resulted in more than 500 deaths, thousands of injuries, and tens of thousands of demonstrators arrested.

The protests, under the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom,” led many Iranian women to refuse to wear the Islamic hijab in public, defying Iran’s mandatory hijab laws. Guidance Patrol units stopped patrolling, and Iran’s regular police had to focus on breaking up the protests, not enforcing hijab rules.

Now the Iranian regime is cracking down.On July 16, Saeed Montazer Al-Mahdi, spokesman for the Iranian police, announced that the morality police would resume conducting morality patrols. “Following massive demand by several groups of people, and the urging of the president and the head of the judiciary to achieve a safer society and enforce family values, police patrols will, from today, alert persons wearing immoral clothing and, if they insist, report them to the courts.”

 


In this video posted on Twitter the man filming says the woman in black is an officer of Iran’s Gasht-e-Ershad morality police making an arrest in the Gisha neighbourhood of north Tehran on July 15, 2023.

 

Many Iranians on social media report seeing police conducting morality patrols on the streets in recent days. They have posted images showing women with their heads uncovered being stopped by women in black chadors accompanied by uniformed male police officers. Police vehicles are visible in the images, along with unmarked white vans. 

Most of the posts on social media report seeing the patrols merely order women to put on a headscarf, but there are also videos suggesting arrests are being made.

Montazer Al-Mahdi did not specifically mention the Guidance Patrol (known as Gasht-e-Ershad in Persian), and it was unclear whether the new patrols are being conducted by regular police or personnel from the religious police unit. Iran’s attorney general had announced in January that the Guidance Patrol was being disbanded, but it was denied by state media.

Iranian authorities have for months been using traffic-surveillance cameras to detect women drivers and passengers without hijabs, and using the vehicles’ licence plates to identify the women and summon them to court to pay fines.

 

“Young women aren’t afraid of arrest or fines”

Niusha [not her real name], an Iranian woman in Tehran who has refused to wear Islamic clothing in public places for more than a year, explains what is now happening on the streets of Iran:

“I go outside as I please, wearing a T-shirt and shorts. However, I have seen patrols of the morality police in several places in Tehran in the north and in the city centre, although I have not seen or heard of them arresting anyone yet.

I have seen their female officers in black chadors as usual. But now they are in white vans, whereas their vehicles used to be white and green [official colours of Iranian police vehicles].

On the other hand, I know many women who have been summoned to court. The Islamic Republic agents have reported them to the authorities for not wearing Islamic dress in public places and the women have been brought before a judge and are now waiting for their verdict.

 


The caption of this video posted on Twitter 17 July 2023 says it shows officers of Iran’s morality police checking women for hijab violations in the western city of Kermanshah.

And the number of threatening text messages to women drivers in cars has increased. Traffic cameras are used to check whether the women in the car are wearing an Islamic hijab or not, and if not, they send a text message and fine the car owner, sometimes impounding the car for a while.

And I don’t see Iranian women actually giving in to the pressure. The main force behind the protests  and most of the women you see without Islamic hijab  are young women and teenagers. I do not see any way the morality police are going to stop them. Young women aren’t afraid of arrest, fines, or parental pressure, or being deprived of their social rights. They’re not afraid of anything.

But middle-class families who have to go to work every day need their car, and some of them might fold. One of my friends, who has not once worn a headscarf in the last few months, put one in her car as a precaution.”

 


This video posted on Telegram shows Iranians in the city of Rasht protesting following the arrest of three women on 16 July 2023 for not wearing Islamic hijab on the street.

On July 17, media outlets close to the state claimed a judge in the Tehran province sentenced a woman to work in a morgue in Tehran for not wearing a headscarf in her car.

The Islamic Republic has once again set out to push back Iranian women with the help of police forces, but many political analysts call this latest act a shot in the Islamic Republic’s own knee.

This photo posted on Twitter on 15 July 2023 shows a suspected morality patrol by police in Tehran’s Valiasr Square. © @NR2OH

 

For the extremists, enforcing Islamic hijab is the last bastion before the regime’s collapse

Tara [not her real name] is a political analyst in Iran. She has been arrested several times for her criticism of the Islamic Republic. She is also one of the Iranian women refusing to comply with the Islamic dress code imposed by the mollahs in Tehran. She explains why, just two months before the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death and amid an unprecedented crumbling of legitimacy for the regime, the Islamic Republic is adding fuel to the fire after decades of economic, environmental, political, diplomatic and human rights crises.

“As far as I can tell, there is a struggle between different political factions in Iran. There are extremists, including Ahmad-Reza Radan, Iran’s newly appointed police chief, who want to reintroduce the morality police. They have the upper hand. But there are other blocs who, for whatever reason  maybe fear of more mass protests  disagree. Some hardline websites such as Tasnim News and Javan [two media outlets close to Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC] have denied the morality police are being redeployed, saying the amateur images showing such patrols are ‘fake’. 

For the extremists, enforcing Islamic hijab on the streets is critical, the last bastion before the regime’s collapse. It’s a way of showing that the regime is still in control.  That is why the hardliners have recently organised rallies by their supporters to protest the regime’s lack of initiative to enforce Sharia law in public spaces.

We should not forget that we are approaching the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death. Maybe they think that with such a strong presence on the streets they can stop people from marking this day in the coming weeks. But I think that will backfire on them in the end.”



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Police violence: How can France tackle racial profiling without first addressing race?

Young men in France perceived to be Black or Arab are 20 times more likely to be stopped by police than the rest of the population, according to the country’s human rights ombudsman. Racial profiling runs deep in the French police force, but unlike in the US and Canada, very little action is being taken to combat this form of discrimination. 

The warning signs are there. Non-profit organisations, anti-racism activists and experts in France have been sounding the alarm for decades – long before the police killing of Nahel, a 17-year-old French boy of Moroccan and Algerian descent, triggered several days of rioting across the country. 

The video of the unthreatened police officer fatally shooting the unarmed teenager during a traffic stop reignited calls among left-wing politicians  and the UN  for French police to acknowledge its racial profiling problem.

Young men who are perceived to be Black or Arab are 20 times more likely to be stopped for identity checks than the rest of the population.

However, French authorities deny the existence of systemic racism. While some efforts have been made to tackle racial profiling, like police training on potential discriminatory behaviours, no concrete policies or laws targeting the issue have been implemented.

Faced with a similar discrepancy between theoretical colourblind policing and unfair targeting of minorities, the US and Canada have tried to curb such racial profiling – with little success so far.

Court rulings not enough to modify ‘broader culture of police’

In 1996, New Jersey became the first state to affirm the existence of racial profiling after its court ruled that troopers were unfairly targeting and arresting minorities on the New Jersey Turnpike. A few years later, the Justice Department demanded the state police department track racial disparities in turnpike enforcement and put 2,500 troopers under a federal consent decree to ensure they adhere to regulations.

But allegations of racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike persisted. Thirty years after the initial ruling, an audit found that Black drivers were still being subjected more often to searches, arrests and uses of force during police traffic stops. An ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) report found that in 2018, Black people in New Jersey were still 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white residents, despite similar usage rates.

“[The ruling] didn’t change the broader culture of police,” says Jean Beaman, Associate Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Barbara who has researched state violence in France and the US.

“Just look at the legislation passed in New York [to reform] stop and frisk,” says Beaman. 

Read moreWhy deadly police shootings are on the rise on France’s roads

Body cameras and accountability

A few miles up north in New York City, former mayor Bill de Blasio promised to combat racial profiling. And he did, to a certain extent. In 2013, a federal judge ruled that New York’s stop and frisk practice was racially biased. The practice had previously allowed police officers to stop, interrogate and search residents on the sole basis of “reasonable suspicion”.

The New York Police Department was ordered to make sweeping reforms in policies, trainings and practices to end racial discrimination in stop and frisk cases. Officers were required to wear body cameras and monitoring was put in place for accountability.

“It was a huge victory,” says Beaman. According to the New York Times, de Blasio managed to reduce the total number of arrests, criminal summons and pedestrian stops by 82%. Crime rates fell, too.

But it wasn’t enough. A 2020 report by Data Collaborative for Justice found that Black neighbourhoods continued to be policed at a higher rate than white ones. Racial disparities persisted, with Black and Hispanic people still much more likely to be stopped and arrested than white people.

While Beaman acknowledges the positive outcomes of the ban, she says “it didn’t change the overall practices of racial profiling by police, in the sense of who they’re more likely to harass or think may be suspicious of criminal activity”.

“You can change the practices but the policing logic … which sees certain individuals as criminals or suspects, not regular citizens … is not going to change,” she explains.

‘Remove the tool that incites racial profiling’

French sociologist Anaïk Purenne, who works on youth-police relations with a focus on discrimination and police profiling, agrees that the larger “policing logic” Jean Beaman refers to is one possible explanation for the shortcomings of the reform. “We have to think about the bias that certain public policy priorities can generate,” says Purenne. If “the fight against crime” is a priority for a police force, she says, then it is important to look at what biases that instils in police officers.

But there is another case Purenne was deeply intrigued by. In a book titled “Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship”, researchers observed police behaviour during traffic stops in Kansas City and surveyed 2,300 drivers over a number of years. They found that there was little to no racial profiling by police in stops made after a driver had committed a traffic violation. During investigatory police stops however, which similarly to former stop and frisk practices are based on “reasonable suspicion”, racial profiling was stark.

“[The authors] concluded that the tool itself, investigatory police stops, had to be broken … that the police instrument had to be abolished altogether,” says Purenne. “I find that a really interesting idea. Removing the tool that incites racial profiling could be very beneficial.”

And this approach is being tested in some parts of the world like Canada, the sociologist explains. In Nova Scotia, police have not been allowed to conduct random street ID checks since 2019. “It’s too recent for us to be able to really measure the effects,” says Purenne, “but it is something to monitor.”

First step: Acknowledging the problem

There are myriad ways to reform policing in order to put an end to racial profiling. Examples from the US may be imperfect, but they are a start.

When it comes to reforms that could be made in France’s police to curb racial profiling, both Beaman and Purenne are pessimistic. The two sociologists agree that a crucial first step would be for French authorities to acknowledge that there is a problem.

“It’s very simple,” says Purenne, “we start by acknowledging there is a problem and naming it”. 

She adds that “being open to the notion that there could be structural causes driving this behaviour” within the police force is also essential.

For Beaman, both France and the US “need a full-scale accountability mechanism for police officers”.

“Part of that is recognising how systematic [racism or discrimination] actually is, which even in the United States we’ve pretty much avoided dealing with, but that’s the first step,” she says.

However, Beaman knows that it can be challenging to achieve accountability in France. It is illegal to compile racial statistics in France, for example. “Without an infrastructure to talk about race, you can’t talk about racial profiling,” she says.

Read moreFrance sees itself as colourblind – so how do the French talk about race?

Lack of statistics

What’s more, police in France are not obliged to keep a record of pedestrian stops they make. “Police only fill in a stop form if they deem the information they gathered relevant or interesting [for another case],” says Purenne. “We need more transparency.”

NGOs and anti-racist activists have made countless suggestions to combat police violence and racial profiling in France. In low-income neighbourhoods like the one young Nahel was from, for example, there is talk of “proximity police”. French sociologist Julien Talpin told FRANCE 24 in a TV interview that “residents are asking for ‘proximity police’, officers who are in the neighbourhoods on a daily basis and who can actually build trust with residents”.

In July 2021, six NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch filed a class action suit with France’s highest administrative court to finally put an end to racial profiling, given authorities’ inaction on the issue. They alleged that French police target minorities when choosing who to stop and check, saying the practice is rooted in a culture of systemic discrimination.

The case is still pending.

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