The number of people arrested since the beginning of the massive popular protests that have gripped France for weeks has surpassed a staggering 4,500, with critics calling the actions of the authorities crackdown on democracy.
The French police have detained a total of 4,523 people in connection to the so-called Yellow Vests protests that united tens of thousands of people across the country discontent with taxes polices and fuel prices hikes. Of those almost 4,100 still remain in police custody, the French BFM TV broadcaster reported, citing police sources.
Earlier, the French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner confirmed that more than 1,900 people were arrested in connection to the protests in just one day – on Saturday, December 8. More than 1,700 of them were taken into custody. However, the French media later reported that the number of those arrested on that day might in fact have reached 2,000 people.
Part of those arrests seemed to be a preventive measure as they occurred before the protests. And the practice alarmed many.
“When we [see] 1,000 people [detained] and 540 of them released two days later, it is obvious that there were at least 540 absolutely unjustified arrests,” a Paris lawyer, Raphael Kempf, told BFM, commenting on the issue. “Being locked up for 48 hours, they were deprived of their right to join a demonstration and this is shocking for a democratic country,” he added.
The government, however, justified its approach by saying that there were in fact no preventive arrests but only “preventive control” measures. The checks consisted in ID checks and baggage inspections, Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez explained, adding that those “possessing weapons” were subsequently taken into custody as they were found in breach of law.
According to the media reports, many arrests were indeed made during the searches and ID checks. However, some reports also suggested that people were arrested for simply having protective gear such as gas masks with them while others reported that the arrests affected those, who did nothing wrong at all.
“Today, we [see] the militarization of police,” Kempf said, adding that the officers often use weapons that “can mutilate or kill”,