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Case Study


Labor Day demonstrations in Paris end in massive police repression

Paris, France, May 1, 2023. The Labor Day march ended at Place de la Nation which was continuously saturated with tear gas. Police failed to ensure a safe exit route for demonstrators. rather, they closed off most streets, making dispersal difficult and dangerous. Photo: Observatoire parisien des libertés publiques

This article is a collaboration with the Observatoire parisien des libertés publiques.

On 1 May 2023, more than 100,00 demonstrators gathered in Paris to celebrate Labor Day. This year’s demonstrations were bolstered by protests against a pension reform plan, which had been going on since January 2023. As in previous years, the demonstration was the subject of much tension, to which the police responded with massive and indiscriminate use of crowd-control weapons and arrests. 5,000 police and gendarmes (military police) were deployed in the capital for the occasion.  

Over 317 people were detained during the demonstrations. These arrests often appeared to be arbitrary, leading to an escalation of tensions. This strategy endangered both the demonstrators and the police, who prioritized performing arrests over ensuring the safety of those participating in the demonstrations peacefully.  

Throughout the protest, law enforcement officials used water cannons, LBDs, tear gas grenades and stun grenades. Dismantling grenades were thrown illegally, exploding at head height, seriously endangering people in the area. The use of force continued unabated during the final hours of the demonstration. On many occasions, the use of force observed in no way met the legal criteria of necessity and proportionality. The non-regulatory firing of a stun grenade seriously injured a gendarme, who suffered several broken vertebrae. These injuries show just how dangerous this weapon and its blast effect can be, causing fractures through heavy protective gear.

The demonstration ended at the Place de la Nation which was continuously saturated with tear gas. Police failed to ensure a safe exit route for demonstrators as they closed off most streets, making dispersal difficult and dangerous, even for people who only wanted to evacuate. Journalists were beaten with batons and shot with tear gas by the police, and observers looking to leave were obstructed. Around 9 PM, gendarmes further escalated the dangerous dispersal of people by forcing demonstrators underground to the metro by pushing them down the stairs. They were joined by private security guards who used tear gas and dogs to frighten people. 

Before the demonstration, government authorities had announced a heavy police presence. After the protest, rather than acknowledging the events and seeking to investigate human rights violations committed by law enforcement, authorities described police repression as necessary and used it to legitimize a new “anti-rioter law” which would further restrict the freedom to protest. 

For more information, read the full report Escalade des violences et opération de communication by la Ligue des droits de l’Homme (Paris), l’Observatoire parisien des libertés publiques and le Syndicat des avocats de France (Paris).