Legal Consequences of the No Border Camp, Strasbourg
Organizing Solidarity and Mobilisation
30.Nov.99 - It was always obvious to the organizers of the Strasbourg camp that our initiative would have to comprise a willingness to react, collectively if at all possible, in the event of repressive episodes during camp's existence and face up to any subsequent legal action as efficiently as possible. This is why a Legal Team was established before and during the camp. Its members were ordinary camp participants, not legal experts or lawyers. Its first task was to provide people with background information on French legal practice (a "Handbook for the Active Demonstrator", a "Special Handbook for Those Without Valid Identity Papers" and a Practical Guide, drafted in collaboration with the medical team. All of these were available in French, German, English and Italian at www.noborder.org .) A unit was established within the camp to collate information surrounding any arrests and respond as quickly as possible. This unit continues to function, as the legal repercussions of the camp have materialized as expected: there have been several court hearings and more are due. The extent of repression faced by the camp (police harassment, repeated arrests, a decree banning demonstrations during three final days out of ten) and the character of subsequent prosecutions (hearings almost entirely closed to the public, prison sentences requested and obtained, systematic obstruction of defence cases) mean that we must be all the more efficient and organized in our response.
Furthermore, the context is conditioned by the current security campaign, orchestrated in France through the passing, last September, of the so-called LSQ, ("loi sur la sécurité quotidienne") or everyday security laws, now seems to have moved in to a ground attack phase, including strikes at the No Border camp as at all others form of political commitment (trade union leaders criminalized, Batasuna banned, Turkish and Kurdish groups proscribed, Paolo Persichetti extradited), as well as all forms of potentially subversive existence (curfew in the "banlieues" (out-of-town project housing), various Special Police Force ("Brigade Anti-Criminelle") exactions and a threat of imprisonment for anyone refusing to pay fines.
We shall also need to be especially efficient if we are to avoid the trap of spending all our time responding to repressive measures. We must learn to make solidarity measures with those charged an opportunity for political and practical advancement in the direction of our principal goals :
- against borders,
- in favour of the legalization of those without valid identity papers or "sans-papiers",
- against detention centres and deportation
- against all forms of social control).
The modus operandi proposed for the post-Camp phase is intended to maximize international efficiency (information dissemination, fund-raising, mobilization) and to place each specific instance of repression in a general political context, as well as allowing individual support groups to pursue their own forms of mobilization. We shall summarize this modus operandi, then provide a summary of past and current legal cases (necessarily non-inclusive, as each new action seems to be generating a further crop of charges). We will also appeal for financial support. This appeal may be relayed extensively. It is urgent because there are an increasing number of trials, and a proportionate drain on resources.
It is important to note that before and during the camp's existence, various discussions and debates took place regarding the political implications of legal action. Those discussions dictate the choices outlined below. They are also expressed in our various Guides and Handbooks. Finally, we can supply general material relating to wider issues such as the future of European law (European warrant, Security legislation and so on). It is there to be consulted and as background material for debates. We welcome any supplementary information which you may wish to provide.
From the start, the Il-Legal Team gave itself three goals:
- Raise funds for legal costs, lawyers and postal orders to inmates. These funds are collected either through appeals, or by means of mobilization in favour of specific defendants. Each collective should as far as possible find separate means of funding other costs (for example by providing two collection boxes, one for the il-legal team, to go towards lawyers' fees and legal costs, the other towards its own expenses). The il-legal team will fund lawyers' fees, if the lawyer chosen is one with whom agreement has previously been reached or if agreement can be found with the lawyer selected. We urge those who intend choosing their own legal representatives to settle the issue of fees as a priority and to consult with the il-legal team on appropriate rates.
- Help set up self-organizing supports groups by making available help and information, on specific issues other than financial (individual cases can be taken on by us, if so desired)
- Help coordinate the different support groups and relay appeals for mobilization.
Support groups are of course autonomous and must choose their own forms of action, media strategy and defence, providing the following three essential conditions are met, without which collective efficiency is not possible:
- money raised to pay for lawyers, other legal expenses and postal orders inmates must be pooled through the il-legal team's accounts
- defence strategies must not conflict nor undermine each other (this applies both to fellow defendants in the one case and to all the various defendants in cases connected with the camp)
- there is must be no public disavowal of fellow defendants, nor of the actions performed in connection with the No Border camp in general.
- A bank account: cheques made out to AAU and sent to Il-legalteam c/o CAE, 21ter rue Voltaire, 75011 Paris
- An e-list: firstname.lastname@example.org which is designed to allow us to work together despite physical dispersion: anyone is entitled to write to this list to request or provide information. However, in order to receive e-mails, it is necessary to subscribe, in the knowledge that this is a working list (for drafting texts, planning mobilization, circulating information) that may also be used to discuss policy issues.
- a site, www.noborder.org/strasbourg/legal/ on which finished drafts and other useful information are published regularly. They are also sent to the various other e-lists we can access.
Trials past, present and future
• Ahmed: Ahmed was stopped during the time of the camp, on 24th July, in the course of a the demonstration against detention centres and deportation. He was sent up for an immediate hearing on 26th. His wrist had been fractured during arrest. He requested an adjournment in order to prepare a case for the defence and a new hearing was set for 21st August. He was kept on remand - something which is normal practice in Strasbourg, unlike anywhere else in France, and not related to the failure to provide "garanties de representation" (proof of domicile, employment etc.) His trial was practically a closed trial (This too is a regular feature of all hearings held in Strasbourg). Only fifteen people were permitted to attend. The court was closed to everyone else for the entire day. Ahmed was immediately sent into solitary confinement by the Prison Authority because he was involved in a campaign to get prisons closed and because his ideas might affect other prisoners: this is specified in an official Prison Authority document). He was not allowed a single visitor, a fact which severely handicapped the preparation of a case for the defence. A request for release on bail was immediately deposed. It was examined ten days later, without his lawyer being informed. A second request was deposed. It was examined on the day of the trial, just before the trial itself, after the summons had been sent to his lawyer at the wrong address. The trial took place on 21st August. Numerous solidarity actions were organized throughout France and Europe (see no-border Web site). In Strasbourg, balloons were floated carrying banners and a press conference was held on the day. Only 6 people were permitted to attend the trial, 5 witnesses for the defence demonstrate the inconsistencies of the police's case. The verdict is 3 months' imprisonment, plus 5 suspended. The State Prosecutor has just lodged an appeal. Ahmed is therefore due to stand trial again during October or early November at Colmar. A new request for bail will certainly be heard. We have recently heard, after Ahmed was visited by a Communist Member of Parliament (Members of Parliament are entitled to visit prisons, though they very rarely do), Ahmed is no longer in solitary confinement and may shortly be granted a visit.
• Four further trials will take place between 22nd and 28th February:
- 2 people for theft of and damage to flags - 1 person for graffiti - 1 person for carrying 6th category weapons (during a vehicle search in the immediate aftermath of Ahmed's first court hearing, tools were found) - Two people for property damage and resisting arrest
• The case of the 17: after several request for prison visits to Ahmed were refused, a promise given was given that a fresh request would be considered after his court hearing. On 22nd, we learnt that Ahmed would have to wait ten more days to receive a reply. 17 people from his support group occupied an annexe of the Ministry of Justice building in Strasbourg in order to support his visiting rights. The occupation was calm. The employees in situ were cheerful. Even the Prosecutor seemed willing to negotiate. However, the GIPN (Special Police Force) reacted in complete disproportion. The Brigade Anti-Criminelle brutally attacked three people with truncheons. 17 people were held in custody for 48 hours, then detained at Elsau prison pending an immediate court hearing which was held the next day. The police case collapsed. (Two of those supposed to have been kidnapped testified that they had not been), the court sided with the defence lawyers who claimed that it did not have the competence to hear a kidnapping case ("sequestration), kidnapping being a crime held in a full Criminal Court ("Assises"). Kidnapping is defined as where people are held against their will until liberated by the police or the army. This is what happened in this instance, though whether the employees present were held against their will is a moot point. The 17 will attend a further hearing at Colmar, at which time the Appeal Court will either confirm its lack of competence or send them up for fresh trial at a local court ("Correctionelle"). The timeframe is not known.
• Three people are due to stand trial in March: arrested outside the occupied building, they charged with contempt ("outrage")and resisting arrest ("rebellion").
Appeal for funds
Further to the LSQ ("loi sur la sécurité quoitidienne", everday security law), we now face a draft bill on terrorism, a draft European arrest warrant. The security campaign is in an aggressive phase. All forms of political commitment are under threat (Batasuna banned, Turkish and Kurdish groups proscribed, Paolo Persichetti extradited), as well as all forms of potentially subversive existence (curfew in the "banlieues" - out-of-town project housing -, various Special Police Force (Brigade Anti-Criminelle) exactions and a threat of imprisonment for anyone refusing to pay fines. The No Border camp at Strasbourg (ten days of debates, collective living, demonstrations and actions against borders, nations and social control) suffered the consequences of this brutally repressive attitude: a decree banned demonstrations; there were serial arrests, vehicle searches, 7 arrests during the camp and one immediate court hearing leading to a remand in custody until subsequent trial. Since that time, Strasbourg has been the scene of untold police and judicial harassment (prison visits refused, a defendant held in solitary confinement, trials held under siege conditions).
The apogee was charging 17 people with kidnapping after a routine occupation in order to support a prisoner's right to prison visits (2 days custody, remand in Elsau prison). The hostages of this parody of justice were released by the Court, which declared itself incompetent, but the Prosecutor lodged an Appeal and a further hearing is due to be held. These charges relate not only to a repression of the Camp itself but also a policy of criminalizing occupation as a political tool which has been used, up till now, by many different groups such as "sans-papiers", the unemployed and others engaged in actions of social self-defence.
In order to combat this repression, an international solidarity campaign is being organized. We require considerable funding... and the amounts involved increase all the time as each initiative leads to new charges with consequent legal costs, lawyers' fees and prisoners' needs. Various initiatives are being organized throughout Europe to express solidarity and raise funds and further initiatives are welcome. You can also send funds directly to the Camp legal team's own account, in the name of :
AAU Il-legalteam c/o CAE 21ter, rue Voltaire 75011 Paris.
For more information, write to email@example.com or at the above postal address.