Life after losing an eye in French protests

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AFP has interviewed more than a dozen people who say they were blinded in one eye by rubber bullets or other projectiles fired by police in the recent months of “yellow vests” protests in France.

Twenty-three people claim to have lost an eye since the movement erupted in November 2018, according to French journalist David Dufresne’s blog and the "Désarmons-les" (“Let’s disarm them”) pressure group.

Fifteen of them spoke to AFP, while eight declined - their details appear in grey in our table below (click the names in blue to find out more).

Some are proud yellow vests, others say they were simply passing by when they were injured in cities as far flung as Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse and the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion. The youngest victims are 14, 15 and 17 years old and the oldest is 59.

Several cases involve the use of large rubber bullets (known in France as LBDs). Their use has been criticised by political parties and civil liberties groups.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on April, 4, 2019 that French security services would investigate 209 cases of suspected police violence against yellow vest demonstrators.

Authorities have defended the police action during the months of unrest, which have seen thousands of demonstrators fill the streets of cities throughout France.

Castaner said 1,628 police and gendarmes have also been injured, some seriously, by protesters.

Fourteen of the injured have been given medical certificates, seen by AFP, confirming they have lost their sight and/or their eye. Two others are expected to go blind. For at least one person, the injury is less visible as the eye is still there.

Patrice, 49, who has filed legal action, sees his injury as a “springboard to start the fight against so-called non-lethal weapons”. Others live at home in the dark “like moles”. “I would rather have been sentenced to 10 years in jail,” said Alexandre. One person told AFP they had attempted suicide.

 

Here are their stories:

 
 
Coordination by Guillaume Daudin, Sami Acef, Remi Banet and Francois d'Astier. Graphic design by Fred Bourgeais, Clara Morineau and Jacky Fong
Interviews by Mahdia Benhamla, Alexandra del Peral, Sami Acef, Pierre Pratabuy, Isabelle Ligner, Clément Melki, Benoît Petit, Simon Valmary, Elia Vaissière, Guillaume Daudin, Catherine Boitard, Estelle Emonet, Denis Meynard, Laurent Geslin, Remi Banet
AFP pictures by Stephane de Sakutin, Lucas Barioulet, Philippe Huguen, Martin Bureau, Fred Tanneau, Mehdi Fedouach, Richard Bouhet, Gerard Julien & Joel Saget.
AFP videos by Tiphaine Honore, Elodie Le Maou, Aurelia Moussly, Thomas Bernardi, Ludovic Vickers, Agnes Coudurier.
Translated into English by Charlotte Mason, edited by Sophie Nicholson