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In France in 2011 (5th republic), demonstrations are still regulated by the executive order of October 23rd 1935 of the president of council Pierre Laval (3rd republic), who was executed for “treason” on October 15th 1945 by a firing squad in the notorious prison of Fresnes.

Articles 1 and 2 of the the executive order require organizers of a demonstration to notify the prefect or the mayor of the reason, date, location and itinerary of the demonstration, 3 to 15 days before it should take place. “Traditional” demonstrations are exempted from the requirement. Article 3 of the the executive order allows head of local police, prefect and mayor to “forbid” the demonstration if it may disrupt “public order“. The executive order doesn’t define a demonstration or the minimum number of people required for a demonstration.

Participating in a “forbidden” or a “non notified” demonstration is not an offense under the French penal code. But a prefect, a mayor or any police officer can decide to disperse any demonstration that he thinks may disrupt “public order” (art. 431-3 of the penal code). Once the legal warnings have been made to the demonstrators by bullhorn or by firing a “red rocket” (art. R431-1 of the penal code), it is an offense to continue participating in that demonstration. It carries a penalty of 1 year in jail and a fine of €15,000 (art.431-4 of the penal code).

On January 26th 2011, a demonstration was organized to protest against a meeting at the Automobile Club of Paris in the 8th district of Paris. No dispersion order was taken. On the opposite, 70 peaceful demonstrators were kettled by military riot police (gendarmerie mobile). They were then arrested, searched, detained in a police bus and transported to a police station in the 11th district of Paris before being released without charge. According to the police department of Paris, the peaceful demonstrators were arrested to “verify their identity.” But this arrest is only authorized under art.78-3 of the code of penal procedure if the citizen refuses to disclose his identity upon request. According to witnesses and videos of the events, the demonstrators were not even requested for their identity before being arrested. Once arrested, they were not advised of their rights to a phone call and to have the prosecutor informed of their detention. Upon release, they didn’t receive the mandatory police report stating the reasons of their detention. (art.78-3 of the code of penal procedure).

On May 10th 2011, a gathering was organized in the Luxembourg gardens in the 5th district of Paris to celebrate the executive order of April 27th 1848 (2nd republic) making slavery illegal in French colonies. No dispersion order was taken. But 8 peaceful citizens were kettled by plainclothes police officers. Then they were arrested, searched, detained in a police bus and transported to a police station before being released without charge. Once again, the citizens were not requested for their identity before being arrested and upon release they also didn’t receive the mandatory police report stating the reasons of their detention. On May 26th 2011, a demonstration was organized in place de la Rotonde in the 10th district of Paris to protest against the G-8 meeting in Deauville. No dispersion order was taken. But the peaceful demonstrators were kettled by riot police (CRS) and plainclothes police officers. 95 peaceful demonstrators were then arrested, searched, detained in a police bus (video 2, video 3, video 4) and transported to the police stations of 5th, 11th and 18th district before being released without charge. They were also not advised of their rights and didn’t received the mandatory police report.

On June 19th 2011, a demonstration of “indignés” was organized in front of Notre Dame in the 4th district. No dispersion order was taken. But the peaceful demonstrators were kettled by riot police (CRS), military riot police (gendarmerie mobile) and plainclothes police officers. They were then arrested, searched, detained and transported to police stations before being released without charge (video 1, video 2).

On July 8th 2011, 5 citizens were waiting on the sidewalk of the embassy of Russia in the 16th district. They wanted to submit a 14,000 signatures petition urging Russia to execute ECHR judgment Alekseyev v. Russia (4916/07; 25924/08; 14599/09) by allowing gay-pride demonstration to take place safely in Moscow. No dispersion order was taken. But the 5 citizens including the Russian applicant Mr. Alekseyev were all arrested, detained and transported to the police station of the 4th district. Mr. Alekseyev was released only 8 hours later. On July 9th 2011, peaceful demonstrators supporting Palestine were kettled and arrested (video 2) in the 4th district.

On September 14th 2011, the French minister of interior threatened to use violence if any regular peaceful gathering of Muslims for Friday prayers will take place after September 16th 2011. On September 16th 2011, the police department of Paris expressed its “satisfaction” that Muslims renounced to gather for Friday prayers in the 18th district of Paris. On September 17th 2011, Xavier Dor organized a gathering to “pray” against the opening of an abortion clinic at the hospital Tenon in 10th district. The organizer an extreme right activist, was already condemned to fines and jail for behaviors toward abortion patients, doctors and nurse interfering with patient’s abortion (art. L2223-2 of the health code). Even though the gathering was in front of the hospital, no dispersion order was taken and no demonstrators were arrested. On September 19th 2011, peaceful demonstrators “indignés” were kettled, assaulted by pepper spray, arrested and searched in the 6th district by police officers (video 2,video 3). On September 21st 2011, peaceful demonstrators “indignés” showing their passports and identity cards were kettled, arrested, assaulted, searched, detained in police bus and transported to police stations (video 1, video 2, video 3, video 4). On September 23rd 2011, 11 citizens “indignés” were on the sidewalk, just released from the cells of the “dépôt” (jail) of the tribunal of Paris in the 1st district. A plainclothes police officer asked them illegally to disperse their gathering (see video below).

These examples shows that the police department of Paris have an administrative practice in 2011 to unlawfully detain some peaceful demonstrators to interfere with their exercise of their freedom of peaceful assembly. The unlawful detention by a police officer, is an offense carrying a maximum penalty of 7 years in jail and a 100,000 euros fine (art. 432-4 of the penal code). These interference are not prescribed by law and seems to target peaceful demonstrators on the ground of their opinion, sexual orientation and religion. In the newsletter PPrama of the police department of Paris (no181), an official acknowledged that the demonstrators “indignés” are trying to gather peacefully. But he stated that police officers have to “very reactive to strangle at birth this kind of inclination“.

Therefore the unlawful detention of peaceful demonstrators on discriminatory grounds to interfere with their freedom of peaceful assembly is a violation of articles 5-1 and 11 of the Convention in conjunction with article 14.

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