Bobigny (France) (AFP) – French prosecutors on Tuesday urged a judge to hand lengthy jail sentences to two youths behind a deadly attack on a Chinese tailor that sparked mass protests by the country’s Asian community.
Lawyers for the men who robbed Zhang Chaolin, leaving him with fatal injuries, said prosecutors had asked that the older defendant — aged 19 at the time of the August 2016 attack — be sentenced to a 15-year term and the younger — aged 17 at the time — to eight years.
Zhang’s death caused an outcry among Asians living in France, with thousands taking to the streets to protest what they called an increase in anti-Asian racism in poorer French communities.
Zhang and a friend were on their way to a restaurant in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers when three teenagers fell upon them in the street.
The 49-year-old father of two fell and hit his head on a wall after being kicked in the chest.
He died five days later in hospital, while his friend received minor injuries.
The attack, which netted the assailants the sum total of a phone charger and some sweets, followed a string of robberies targeting Chinese tourists and small-business owners in France’s gritty high-rise suburbs, or “banlieues”.
The two suspects on trial in a juvenile court near Paris are charged with racist robbery causing death and injury.
Their lawyers protested the lengthy jail terms demanded by the prosecution.
“There was never any intention to murder,” they told AFP, saying they feared the authorities wanted to make “an example” of the pair.
A verdict was expected late Tuesday.
During police questioning one of suspects said the gang had targeted the Chinese pair because they had heard Asians “carry a lot of cash”.
But defence lawyers denied their clients were racists.
Lawyer Marlene Viallet said that while stereotypes about Asians were rife in low-income suburbs, “there is no hatred towards them”.
The attack on Zhang, she said, was purely an act of “delinquency”.
Around 10,000 people of Chinese origin live in Aubervilliers, Europe’s biggest textile import-export hub, which has a population of 80,000.
Community leaders say security has improved since Zhang’s death.