Have French authorities mishandled probe into Algerian’s death?

Zineb Redouane, 80, died after police threw a tear gas canister into her apartment during a ‘yellow vest’ protest.

Zineb Redouane [Courtesy of Milfet Redouane]
Zineb Redouane was 80 years old when she died after police fired a tear gas canister through her window during a yellow vest protest in Marseille [Courtesy of Milfet Redouane]

Paris France – Relatives of an 80-year-old Algerian woman who was hit by a tear gas canister during a “yellow vest” demonstration last December – and later died – have filed complaints about what they regard as mishandling the investigation into her death.

Zineb Redouane was trying to close her apartment shutters on December 1, 2018, when she was hit in the face with a tear gas canister thrown into her fourth-floor apartment.

She died on a hospital operating table two days later.

Seven months after Redouane’s death, her children are asking why the policeman who threw the tear gas canister has still not been identified.

A surveillance camera in front of her building that would have shown the suspect was deemed “inoperative” by the Inspection Generale de la Police Nationale (IGPN), a police monitoring body that conducted the preliminary investigation.

Now the family is contesting the written claim that the camera was out of service. 

This kind of police violence is a step back for us. These methods haven't been used since the 1960s in France. Is that really the direction we want to be heading in?

by Sebastien Nadot, politician

According to a complaint filed by their lawyer Yassine Bouzrou on July 5, the family has accused the investigators of “false facts in aggravated public writing”.

Bouzrou told Al Jazeera: “[The investigators] know what they wrote was fraudulent.” 

Another complaint filed in late June accused the police of concealing evidence after the chief police officer working the day of the protests refused to hand over to investigators the rifle grenade launchers used during the demonstrations. 

In their preliminary investigation, the IGPN interviewed the five police officers who were using rifle grenade launchers near the scene that day. 

All of them denied involvement in launching the tear gas canister into the apartment. So far no one has been charged.

In a further twist, one of Redouane’s daughters says the incident was not an accident but rather her mother was targeted by the police. 

Zineb Redouane with her grandchildren [Courtesy of Milfet Redouane]
Zineb Redouane was a grandmother originally from Algeria, where her body underwent a second autopsy [Courtesy of Milfet Redouane]

In an interview with Mediapart in March, Milfet Redouane said she was on the phone with her mother just as she was trying to close the window.

“Then the phone dropped,” she told Mediapart. “I heard her scream … then she picked up the phone and said, ‘He targeted me, the police targeted me! I made eye contact with two policemen – one fired at me. Then they got in their car and left.'”

At the hospital, Milfet told a friend that perhaps the police thought she was filming them.

In their first complaint against the police filed in March, the family accused the police of “wilful violence resulting in death without intent to give it”.

Riot police drag a protester during a demonstration on Act XXIII (the 23rd consecutive national protest on Saturday) of the yellow vests movement in Paris on April 20, 2019 [File: Yves Herman/Reuters]

In order for the complaint to be successful, however, the family would need to show proof connecting their mother’s cause of death to the scene of the crime.

After two days in the hospital, Redouane was pronounced dead on the operating table following a cardiac arrest.

An autopsy ordered by the Marseille public prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux declared that she had been “victim of a cardiac arrest on the operating table”. 

Tarabeux went on to explain that, according to the autopsy, “facial shock was not the cause of death”.

Last week, a second autopsy was performed in Algiers. 

The conclusion: “[facial] trauma is directly responsible for her death”, thereby linking the cause of Redouane’s death back to the police.

On the night Redouane was injured, the Marseille deputy public prosecutor appeared with police near the scene of the crime – a development which also prompted the family’s request to move the investigation to another jurisdiction.

They are still waiting for a response.

Hundreds injured in protests

Police-led violence in France has risen sharply over the past year. French police have been accused of causing 860 serious injuries to yellow vest protesters since the protests began in November 2018.

At least 315 people have suffered serious head injuries, while 27 injuries were attributed to bystanders.

In March, the United Nations included France on a list of countries it was investigating for use of excessive violence towards protesters. Sudan, Zimbabwe and Haiti were also on the list.

In the case of Redouane, police have said that evening was particularly chaotic and violent given a simultaneous climate protest that was being held alongside the yellow vest protests.

Sebastien Nadot, an MP who has previously criticised police violence, says it is no excuse for what happened that evening.

“This kind of police violence is a step back for us,” Nadot told Al Jazeera.

“These methods haven’t been used since the 1960s in France. Is that really the direction we want to be heading in?”

Mural of Zineb Redouane  [Courtesy of Milfet Redouane]
A mural of Zineb Redouane with the words ‘Black Lives’ and ‘He’s aiming for me’ in graffiti [Courtesy of Milfet Redouane]
Source: Al Jazeera