French police accused of racial profiling; 15 men sue
Fifteen men who say they were singled out by French police for identity checks because of their race or origin announced Wednesday they were suing the French state for discrimination, DPA reported.
The 15 range in age from 16 to 47 and hail from different parts of the country, one of their lawyers Slim Ben Achour told dpa.
At least two are students, one works in construction and another is a municipal councillor.
"What they have in common is that they are all black or Arab or perceived as such and have been stopped by police in recent months," Ben Achour said.
On Wednesday they issued a summons to Interior Minister Claude Gueant, as the minister responsible for the police, informing him they were seeking 10,000 euros in damages.
The men were targeted "not because of what they do, because of what they are: 'black' or 'Arab'", their lawyers and two organizations supporting the case - the Open Society Justice Initiative of billionaire philanthropist George Soros and a French collective that combats racial profiling - said in a statement.
"These checks often take place several times a week, even a day," and are "generally carried out in conditions that are humiliating, degrading and persecutory," the statement said.
Under French law, police have broad powers to carry out identity checks without any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing,
Human rights groups say they suspect the police of ethnic profiling, but the fact that there is no requirement for police to document identity checks, and that France bans the collection of official statistics along ethnic lines, makes it difficult to prove.
A 2009 study carried out by the national research institute CNRS with funding from the Open Society Justice Initiative found that blacks and Arabs were between six and eight times as likely as whites to be stopped by police.
US-based Human Rights Watch in a report published in January that drew on testimony from 100 men in Paris, Lille and Lyon, accused the police of "unwarranted" and "abusive" identity checks of black and Arab youths.
Nadir, a 20-year-old accounting student and radio presenter from Lyon, told Le Monde daily he was often stopped by police when he went into the city centre. "Some months ... up to 10 times."
"They never found anything on me, I have no police record," he said.
Omar Mas-Capitolin, a 40-year-old councillor in the 11th district of Paris, told the paper he was sometimes stopped "three times in the same week."
The Interior Ministry was not immediately available for comment on the matter. Le Monde quoted the ministry as denying any profiling and saying it was up the courts to decide whether the case should proceed.