While there was a marked decline in overall violence during the ninth consecutive Saturday of nationwide rallies at the weekend, there were also several physical and verbal assaults of members of the press that have raised alarm bells for advocates of press freedom.
“A turning point has been reached,” said Christophe Deloire of Paris-based media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders during an appearance on television station BFMTV on Sunday, warning of “a very serious situation which is threatening to get worse.”
“We call on the spokespersons of the ‘Yellow Vests’ to solemnly condemn increasing violence against journalists during demonstrations,” he tweeted.
On Twitter, Deloire called on spokespersons of the protesters to condemn the violence, referring to a particularly brutal assault on a security official who was attacked while accompanying a television crew in the north-western city of Rouen.
We call on the spokespersons of the Yellow Vests to solemnly condemn increasing violences against journalists during demonstrations. Their silence would be a sort of justification of lynching, as it happened today in the city of Rouen. #PressFreedom https://t.co/TEnSNAeHEDChristophe Deloire (@cdeloire) January 12, 2019
In a video, a mob of protesters, some wearing yellow vests, are seen surrounding and assaulting the security official. Reports say he emerged with a broken nose.
Aggressions and a threat of rape
In Toulouse, a female freelance reporter working with newspaper La Dépêche du Midi pressed charges on Sunday after being threatened with rape while covering the protests the previous day.
The paper reported that several masked protesters, some wearing yellow vests, surrounded the reporter as she was leaving a protest in car bearing the newspaper’s logo.
“It lasted four or five minutes,” the reporter said in an article on the incident. “They wanted me to open the window. I told them it wasn’t possible, that I had to go get my child. A man said in a threatening tone, ‘you have two seconds to get out of here.’”
A deputy editor of the paper said the reporter was able to escape with the help of two protesters also wearing yellow vests.
There were several other incidents reported around the country.
Two video reporters from AFP agency were threatened by protesters and took refuge in a restaurant in the southern city of Toulon, a crowd hurled insults at a television journalist and two local photographers in Marseille, and a journalist was kicked in the southwest city of Pau.
Overnight on Friday, protesters blocked the printing centre of the L’Yonne Republicaine newspaper and prevented the newspaper La Voix du Nord from being distributed.
French President Emmanuel Macron referred to the violence in his “letter to the French” ahead of a “great national debate” on issues driving the protesters.
“I do not accept, and I do not have the right to accept general persecution, for example of media, journalists, institutions and civil servants,” Macron wrote.
The French government also weighed in on the incidents.
“In our democracy, the press is free. In our Republic, the freedom to inform is unalienable. Assaulting journalists is an attack on both,” tweeted Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.