Air France sues its own passagers

23.Nov.03 - Air France actively participates in the criminalization of passengers accused of opposing deportations. This is an account of the trial of three passengers on an Air France flight on December 11th, 2002. During the third hearing, we learned that Air France had recently added a civil suit to the criminal proceedings against the passengers, so as to obtain financial compensation for the flight delay (one hour). Not being content with daily deportations on its commercial flights and with letting its passengers be arrested on the plane, Air France to its active collaboration with deportations one step further by associating itself with the prosecution of its passengers.

The trial took place at the Palais de Justice de Bobigny, on november19th, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., among other trials heard the same day. Outside the courthouse, demonstrators held signs with messages such as"AIR FRANCE COLLABORATES WITH DEPORTATIONS". Armed police stood at the doors of the courthouse, and many supporters were prevented from entering the courtroom.

The defendants were Mr. K., Mr. D., and Mr. M., all legal residents of Malian descent in France. The incident in question had taken place at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Paris, December 11, 2002, while the plane was still stationed on the airport. It was a commercial flight to Mali; the men were making a visit to their country of origin for the holidays, with dearly-bought plane tickets, when apparently a man and a woman who were being deported to Mali entered the plane from behind and the woman started to scream for help.

The three passengers were accused of having prevented the plane from taking off, causing a one-hour delay, inciting other passengers to prevent the deportation. They were accused of having violently resisted and insulted the police, saying, "Vous nous faites chier, vous emmerdez tout le monde" (a vulgar way to say: "You annoy us, you bother everyone."). Mr. T. was accued of having said to officer Sebastien Groune, "Fais attention a toi, tu vas voir ce qui va t'arriver, je vais m'occuper de toi" ("Watch out, you'll see what will happen to you, I'm going to take care of you.") The police later changed their report in the course of the trial, adding that the passengers had said, "Va te faire foutre" ("Go fuck yourself"). The passengers were also accused of having hindered air circulation and prevented the deportation, a little-known infraction of the code on avation, applied to invoke anti-terrorist undertones, as one of the prosecutors explained, "On a assiste a une petite prise d'hotages" ("we witnessed a little hostage-taking" by the passengers on the plane).

The passengers were arrested in the airplane, despite the Tokyo Convention, which states that only an airplane pilot has the authority to make arrests or to order arrests on board a plane. The Air France lawyer argued that French law overrode international treaties. The Air France lawyer argued that the pilot had asked the police to empty the plane, but there is no mention of that in any of the reports on the incident. In the end, the judges upheld the arrests by saying that the pilot had asked the police to escort the deportees off the plane, and that the passengers had prevented them from leaving, using threats, insults and violence. (The deportees in question were deported to Mali later.)

The police officers among the plaintiffs included Mr. Cami-Socaut, and Mrs. Donne. Officer Marc Picot charged that he got his leg caught in a chair, causing him to have to leave work for one day, and another officer charged that he lost three days of work because he was injured. The police explained that the defendants had incited the other passengers to riot, and that the police had called for reinforcements, to deal with what they called a "potential very grave danger."

The presiding judge declared her bias before even hearing the opening arguments, glaring at the three African men in front of her and stating, "Je ne comprends pas comment ils peuvent etre des innocents totaux." ("I do not understand how they can be totally innocent.") The presiding judge accepted the police officers' version of the events without question, asking leading questions of the plaintiffs and derisive questions of the defendants. According to the judge, the simple fact that the border police had called for reinforcements proved that they had been prevented from leaving the plane; she states, "Je ne comprends pas pourquoi ils ont appele aux renforcements s'ils pouvaient descendre."

The prosecutor first justified the police actions, saying, "Les agents ne font qu'executer les ordres qui leur sont transmis -- ils ne font que leur travail. ... Ils souhaitent executer leur travail dans des conditions les moins difficiles possibles." ("The police officers are only following orders. They are only doing their job, and they'd like to do it with as little difficulty as possible.")

Air France's lawyer then justified the airline's participation in the deportations, saying, "Ces avions sont requisitionnees par la loi. ... Ce n'est pas un cadeau qu'Air France doit transporter des non-admis, mais c'est quand-meme une realite." ("The airplanes are commandeered by the law. It's no treat to carry deportees, but that's reality.") Air France asked for one symbolic euro, not so much to pay damages but to set a precedent for future prosecution of passengers who refuse complicity with deportations. The Air France lawyer then continued that deportations "ne font qu'appliquer la loi francaise, qui a ete adoptee democratiquement par le parlaiment dont ces personnes n'ont aucune legitimite de s'opposer." ("Deportations are only the application of french law, which has been democratically adopted in parlaiment, which the passengers have no legitimacy to oppose" -- perhaps because of their immigrant status, because in a democracy there is supposedly a certain right of citizens to oppose unjust laws via legitimate civil disobedience.)
Another prosecutor showed flagrant racism by saying that insulting police officers was "natural" and "typical of this type of people," comparing the situation to someone insulting a police officer who escorts him off a train for smoking a joint; she said that insulting police officers was typical of the lack of respect that "this kind of people" has for french law and order in general. As she gestured to the defendants -- all dignified, middle-aged men, formally dressed, it is difficult to say what she meant by "this kind of people"; she obviously was not referring to the famous "jeunes des banlieux" ("ghetto kids") that prosecutors have such fun with. Apparently "this kind of people" included all Africans in general.

The prosecutor asked for 4, 5, and 6 months of prison without parole, justifying this by saying that if the passengers were not strongly condemned, "it would provoke a total disorganization of deportations." The verdict was reached the same day: 100 days to pay a fine at 4, 5, and 6 euros per day, and several hundred euros payment of damages for each of the police officers who were escorting the deportees. As to Air France, its lawyer requested, in his closing argument, "in the interest of pacification" one symbolic euro in damages.

So let's make that euro cost them.

actions against air france to support the defendents

Various actions were taken, such as distributing letters to passengers to send to Air France, a postering campaign, occupations of two travel agencies, and a call to action on the day of the trial, all with the following demands:
-that Air France drop its civil suit against the passengers.
-that all the passengers arrested have their plane tickets reimbursed.
-that all charges against the passengers be dropped.
-that Air France agree not to let any other passengers be arrested inside its planes.
-that Air France circulate a memo among its pilots to remind them that the Tokyo Convention allows "the absolute authority of airplane pilots over all police powers" inside the plane.
-an end to deportations and that all undocumented migrants be granted a ten-year residence card.

During the occupation of the travel agency on Beaumarchais Boulevard, we were offered the chance to discuss our demands with an Air France national authority for Quality of Service and a general Ways and Means authority. During this discussion, the day before he trial, two representatives of the Collective Against Expulsions (CAE), two representatives of the Travel Without Deportees Collective, a Polish representatice of the NoBorder Network, and one of the passengers accused.

Among our demands, we were only able to really disuss three points during our three-hour meeting. Air France's position was that punctuality was the primary measure of quality, before all other considerations. We pointed out that Air France filed no complaint against the French Border Police when two deportees were killed inside its airplanes, which, of course, caused the flights to be delayed. The employees present made no commitment to withdraw the civil suit. They did not agree to reimburse the passengers' plane tickets, but agreed to reread the files regarding the passengers. As to the idea of circulating a memo among pilots to remind them of their rights under the Tokyo Convention, the authorities declared that they "did not want to give orders to the pilots"! The Convention that ties Air France to the State concerning the State's methods of deportation was also discussed; Air France is proud of thie Convention, because it allows them to "keep control."

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