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French photojournalists in ‘hindrance of liberty’ case against police

PHOTOJOURNALISTS brought a court action against the police and prefecture of the North and Pas-de-Calais region in the administrative court in Lille, northern France, alleging "hindrance of liberty" by police while they were trying to cover evictions of refugees in the area at the end of December.

The lawsuit was launched in early January by freelance photographer Louis Witter and his colleague Simon Hamy. They claim that police refused them access to the sites of the evictions after arbitrarily erecting cordons a considerable distance from the scene. These cordons had nothing to do with ensuring the safety and security of police operations, but were there purely to prevent journalists from covering the eviction, they say. Efforts to stop the evictions being reported also allegedly included parking police vans across roads just so that photographers couldn't get shots of the action.

The action was rejected by a judge on the grounds that the evictions had already been completed by the time the case came to court, so that specific threat of a "hindrance" of the liberty of the two photojournalists was no longer present.

The journalists' union the Syndicat national de journalistes (SNJ) condemned "these practices of obstruction and intimidation". NUJ Paris Branch members report frequent obstruction by police while trying to cover protests and demos, with officers deliberately standing directly in the way of their cameras being a recurring tactic. One member of the Branch is currently in an ongoing legal action against the police over injuries they sustained while covering a gilets jaunes protest in 2018.