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French court calls for policeman to be charged with rape

Geoffroy van der Hasselt, AFP | A graffiti in the Paris suburb of Bobigny reads "No justice, no peace", with riot police in the background.

A French court on Monday called for a police officer charged with assaulting a man in a Paris suburb to be instead charged with rape, two weeks after a similar incident triggered several nights of unrest.

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The court in Bobigny, northeast of Paris, had been expected to deliver a verdict on charges of “aggravated violence” levelled at the 33-year-old police officer.

Instead it ruled that medical records justified launching criminal proceedings against the officer, who stands accused of forcing his expandable baton into the young man's anus as he sought to subdue him during a forceful arrest in nearby Drancy, in October 2015.

The victim – identified only by his first name, Alexandre, and now aged 29 – was treated in hospital for a 1.5-centimetre-deep wound in the rectal area and pronounced unfit to work for 10 days. His DNA was found on the officer's baton.

Paris suburbs rage over 'police rape'
Paris suburbs rage over 'police rape'

Prosecutors had earlier dismissed calls to file rape charges, claiming the policeman’s actions may have had a “sexual connotation” but did not present a “sexual character”.

They now have ten days to appeal the court’s decision, barring which a judicial inquiry for rape will be entrusted to an investigative magistrate.

Police brutality

The case had gone largely unnoticed, until a similar incident involving a black man in the nearby town of Aulnay-sous-Bois cast a spotlight on the festering issue of police violence in some of France’s most deprived suburbs.

The brutal encounter, on February 2, between a police patrol and the young man, known as Théo, left the 22-year-old with such severe wounds to the rectum that he required major emergency surgery and was declared incapacitated for 60 days.

The incident, part of which was caught on CCTV camera, sparked outrage and violent protests across France.

It came on the heels of months of protests that followed the death in July of another black youth, 24-year-old Adama Traore, who died of asphyxia while in police custody in Beaumont-sur-Oise, north of Paris.

Ghosts of 2005

Traore’s death, and the perceived miscarriage of justice that followed when police were cleared of wrongdoing, reignited the simmering anger in France’s most deprived suburbs, where officers are routinely accused of using excessive force against youths from ethnic minorities.

'We can't shake the stigma attached to our skin'
'We can't shake the stigma attached to our skin'

Rights groups have expressed fears that Théo’s ordeal will also go unpunished, their suspicions heightened by a police investigation that suggested the 10-centimetre-deep penetration had been "accidental".

Both cases have stoked fears of a repeat of the huge riots that followed the 2005 deaths of teenagers Zyed Benna and Bouna Traore (no relation to Adama), who were electrocuted in a power station while hiding from police in the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.

President François Hollande, who visited Théo in hospital, has appealed for calm and for “justice to be served”, urging his fellow nationals to "show that we are capable of living together in a peaceful society."

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