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international bordercamp strasbourg

Handbook for the active activist [part1]

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07.Jul.02 - [part 1 of 2] The purpose of this handbook is allow participants in a demonstrations, occupations and other forms of collective action to understand various stages in a process which leads from arrest to trial, in case of police repression. The aim is to limit the consequences of such repression, as far as is possible. The handbook proposes no miracle cures and cannot guarantee that all those charged will be allowed to go free. Nor does it intend to enter into the question of guilt (and innocence). Its object is to ensure that anyone facing repression and the judicial system is equipped to cope. What follows is not designed to dictate behaviour: it contains only information and advice. As far as is possible, we have tried to analyse the law as it is applied, in practice, today, in the knowledge that the gap between the letter of the law and its reality as applied may be considerable (for instance, penalties are often below the maximum).

Where collective action is concerned, much depends on circumstance and the relative strength of the parties involved. Nonetheless, entering into collective action requires the establishment of some basic principles. A mastery of one's own behaviour and control over one's surroundings allow a surprising degree of collective power to express itself; panic and its consequences, which are disarray culminating in multiple arrests, can be avoided; charges and the criminalisation of collective action can be rendered impractical. Much depends on the collective and individual behaviour of participants. Know your rights. Remember to behave tactically. Police error and the infringement of your rights are a means of ensuring that charges are dropped. It sometimes better not to protest at the time. Let them tie themselves up in knots.

Blocking borders:

Borders may be blocked before an international event but only under specific circumstances. Clearly, mass transport is more likely to be blocked than individual border crossings. Collective border-crossing operations can be an interesting tactical option to help people who would not otherwise be permitted to cross a border (people without valid identity papers and others) through intensive mobilization. The issue is then establishing sufficient strength to avoid individual checks. The French authorities are entitled to refuse entry to any alien whose presence is considered a threat to public order; to any alien who has been banned from entering France; or who has previously been deported. N.B. Refusal may be on administrative rather than judicial grounds and therefore neither published nor explained. However, anyone refused entry must be communicated in writing and copy given the person concerned. If you are refused entry, you must imperatively obtain this document in order to challenge the grounds on which you were refused entry. You are entitled to inform a person of your choosing that you have been refused entry. We advise you in this case to call the Legal Team on... . Entry refusal is pronounced by the authorities with immediate effect, without judicial hearing. However, entry refusal cannot under any circumstances lead to compulsory repatriation before a period of 24 hours has lapsed. If you are not formally refused entry, you cannot be held at the border for more than four hours and you may thereafter enter into French territory. Remember that, if you are a citizen of a Schengen Agreement country, you are entitled to enter France freely, except on grounds of public disturbance although the law stipulates that unless you can show you are a French citizen, you may be required to possess proof of identity.

In a demonstration:

Come as a group, leave as a group, stay in a group and stay alert. Even if you have chosen to attend a demonstration alone, try and hook up with others during the demonstration and stay with those people. As far as authorized demonstrations are concerned, either the organizers or the police may decide to call an end to the demonstration and order dispersion. Sometimes, the demonstrators may then decide to continue. The demonstration is then no longer an official one and participants must manage themselves. Make sure you move in good order - keep together and keep moving - and avoid entrapment (in a cul-de-sac surrounded by police cordons). Do not remain or leave alone. Most arrests occur at such times. Learn to distinguish the various types of law enforcement officials: The CRS (riot police), ordinary national police companies and "gardes mobiles" (military police) wear uniforms. Their job is to maintain order and ensure the demonstration disperses in an orderly fashion. The "Brigade Anti-Criminelle" may either wear uniforms or civilian clothing. They are cowboys responsible for rapid intervention operations and brutal arrests. There are in addition people known as "Public Security Agents" ("Agents de Sécurité Publique") whose job is to assess risks, talk to demonstrators, attempts control and negotiate. They are often confused with the political police ("Renseignements Généraux") but they are a different body and they do not work covertly. The Renseignements Généraux (known as "Les RGs") have no uniforms. They are a political police force. Their function is monitoring militant groups and political events.

The various types of undercover (civilian clothing) policemen are entitled to arrest you, though in principle they are meant to wear an armband and let you know, in one way or another, that they belong to the police. They may omit to do so, which provides grounds for dropping charges.

Beware of still and video cameras. The images may be used as evidence against you.

Be aware of the fact that in order to press charges against specific persons on grounds of property damage and various forms sabotage, the police may collect fingerprints and DNA samples on the spot. For instance, when some GM crops were destroyed in the Maine-et-Loire (West of France) in September 2000, a few drops of blood were found in the field and this led to a DNA search. Take care of leaving fingerprints (wear gloves) and, in extreme cases, of cigarette ends and other clues that may lead to charges. Be equipped to mask your face (this is not officially illegal in France) throughout the demonstration or when finding yourself in circumstances conducive to arrest (graffiti, wall-flyer posting and so on). Also, prvide yourself with a change of clothes or a quick change of appearance, in case your clothes show traces of potentially criminal activity (paint for example). After a demonstration, the police are liable to track down participants according to appearance, or clothing descriptions, and they may very well make arrests in adjacent streets, or some hours after a demonstration.

Police charges may be pressed at any time. Individual arrests may be performed at any time. Even where the demonstration is authorized. Their function is to disperse demonstrators, to cause fear, so that the demonstration is dislocated. Do not panic. Where possible, form a chain. Maintain solidarity with other demonstrators, especially people identified by the police or people unable to run fast enough. Police behaviour is entirely arbitrary. It is often possible, where numbers are sufficient and where people are sufficiently well-organized, to release someone during the course of an arrest. It is important to keep the situation under control in order to avoid further arrests. If someone is stopped beside where you find yourself, ask them to shout their name and nationality out and transmit the information to the Legal Team responsible for helping people prepare a defence strategy. The person's friends should also be informed. If necessary, be prepared to make enquiries at the police station yourself. You should also tell the person's friends and the Legal Team whether you can provide evidence about the arrest in case of trial. Any information you have concerning arrests is helpful to the Legal Team (number arrested, circumstances of arrest, precise time and place). You must however guard against rumour, particularly in case of panic. We prefer eye-witness accounts. If someone tells you something, tell them to contact us themselves. You can also visit the Legal Tent or send less urgent information by the Internet at this address....

When you decide to attend a demonstration, a few elementary security precautions should be observed. Firstly, check that your friends are all present and aware you are leaving. For these purposes, it is possible to constitute a group before or during a demonstration, and to exchange names and nationalities of all those involved. There is a danger of being stopped and questioned in the area around the demonstration but also whilst using public transport. Do not loudly brag about what you did or about what you know other people have done. Try not to mention names. You could be "caught red-handed" at any moment.

If you are wounded and need to go to hospital, be prudent. In case of police brutality during an arrest, even in case of intimidating behaviour on the part of the police, it is possible to sue. This involves sending a registered letter to the public prosecutor ("Procureur de la République")) in order to make sure that your complaint is properly registered. Suing the police is a necessary step when accused of bodily harm ("coups et blessures"), refusing to submit ("rebellion") or contempt ("outrage"). It can also be adopted as a tactic by people subject to police brutality, but in that case there is very little chance of success and a great deal of determination is needed to prod the courts into action.

Before participating in collective action:

Try to find out what is planned before you go. Certain types of collective action lead almost automatically to identity checks, others less so. Do not take your address book. Remember possession of a weapon (including penknife or other object that might be used as a weapon) and drug possession are chargeable offences. Take some form of identification and learn the Legal Team telephone number by heart or keep it on your person, perhaps written on your arm.


Occupying an office or an official building inevitably provides the authorities with a motive for charging certain individuals, (for example, at the moment of entry). It is advisable that anyone attracting attention at such a time should either discreetly leave or at least change their clothes in order to reduce visible identifying marks. The others should be particularly careful to watch what happens to such people during the whole period the action lasts. Again, if the building is forcibly evacuated and if people are then arrested, it is important to control the course of events and restrain police violence by adopting suitable collective tactics. If participants have been arrested, the others must take these arrests into account in deciding what to do next, carefully avoiding doing anything which might worsen the situation of those arrested. A refusal to leave as long as those arrested have not been released can sometimes produce results. Here again, it is important to take time for collective debate, even outside the building, and not give in to panic.


Usually, during occupations, the whole group is arrested as a group. This is the most desirable outcome (if arrests are unavoidable that is!), making sure that no one involved is treated as a separate case, and therefore more easily charged. It is important to preserve a collective approach, decide as a group what attitude to take (in particular, no one should make any kind of statement and no one should sign any documents). In principle, identity checks may not last more than four hours. Anyone familiar with this kind of situation should explain the procedure to the others, reassure them and give them the contact number for the Legal Team for use as necessary.

If you are stopped on your own and find yourself surrounded by police people, whether during an occupation or during a demonstration, best say nothing, refuse to acknowledge any accusations made and stoically await developments. If you have been subject to violence, do not hesitate to insist on seeing a doctor and receiving a certificate of sick leave ("arrêt de travail") even if you are not in employment. If you can, try and take note of policemen's identification numbers. If there are several of you, try and exchange identities and telephone numbers in order to avoid being isolated. Remember to shout your name out so that anyone standing nearby can let the Legal Team know you have been arrested. Do not hesitate to let other people arrested whom they should contact on the outside with the necessary details of your arrest, the Legal Team for instance, and tell them the circumstances of your arrest. Try and discuss what attitude you are going to adopt as events develop: "garde à vue", criminal charges, trial.

At the police station:

You may be transferred to a police station ("commissariat") either for an identity check ("contrôle d'identité") which can take up to four hours, or under arrest ("garde à vue") which can last up to 24 hours, or 48 hours if renewed. These time limits are doubled if you are accused of terrorism or drug-trafficking. You will then be interrogated by detective ("officier de police judiciaire, OPJ) who will take a statement ("process-verbal", PV). In the case of a standard identity check, this is a mere entry in the log-book. However if you are charged, the statement will be used as evidence in court, along with any previous declarations you have made. You have a right to an interpreter.

If you are a French citizen, you are not obliged to have your identity papers on your person and you may establish your identity by any means available (administrative papers and letters, evidence by a witness including over the telephone). You may not at this stage be photographed, nor may your fingerprints be taken, unless you refuse to give your identity and unless it is impossible to establish your identity by any other means. You clothes will be felt - by a woman if you are a woman but you may not be subject to a full body-search. If this procedure is not respected, you may have grounds to get charges against you dropped. Regarding DNA identification, the police have to get you to give your DNA voluntarily (spitting on blotting-paper). Refuse to do this under any circumstances.

The general rule, where collective action is concerned, is to refuse to make any kind of statement, meaning you give your identity, address and profession, which is compulsory, and then state "I have nothing to declare" ("Je n'ai rien à declarer") in answer to any other question. You are not obliged to respond to additional identity questions ("grand état civil") which may include whether you possess a driving-licence, the nature of your residence, the name of your landlord, etc. Where several people have been detained, the danger of contradictory responses or responses which may incriminate others is such that it is best if no one says anything. N.B. any kind of discussion, even informal discussion in a corridor, is to be treated as the start of interrogation.

If, despite the above, you decide to answer questions, be very careful to monitor how police questions and your replies are transcribed in the written statement (PV): anything you admit will be used as evidence against you or against others (by comparing different defendant's responses). The best course is to admit nothing held against you and to refuse to sign the statement. This is a right. Normally, you are entitled to alter the statement as often as you like until you sign it. If, despite the above, you choose to sign the statement, make sure you leave no blank space between statement and signature. As a general rule, it is better not to sign the statement, even if this means justifying your attitude before of magistrate subsequently ("I was submitted to undue pressure on the part of the police; I was hit; so I effused to sign the statement as is my right").

If you are stopped and questioned after an action, say nothing about how it was devised, how you were told about it, where you met the others and so on... GIVE NO NAMES. When faced with a difficult or embarrassing question, say nothing.

During the four hour identity check ("contrôle d'identité") you may be placed under formal arrest ("en garde à vue"). You must be told that this has happened. The only person who can decide such a measure is the public prosecutor ("procureur"). The police do not have the power to decide to place someone under arrest ("en garde à vue") contrary to what they often suggest, in a form of unjustified blackmail which goes something like "if you make a statement, we will not place you under arrest.".

A "garde à vue" seems long. Be patient and control yourself. If you have been hurt, ask to see a doctor who will establish a medical certificate. If there are several of you, try and swap identities and telephone numbers with other detainees. Count each other. In that way, you will know, when released, how many people are still inside. Make sure you know why people have been charged and any other useful information.

You are entitled to see a lawyer one hour after the "garde à vue" has begun. Ask to see legal aid lawyer. His or her services come free and you can always change lawyers if you enter into a lengthy legal process. The Legal Aid lawyers have been given previous warning of the No Border No Nation Camp. Do not hesitate to tell the lawyer that you are participating in the camp and ask him or her to contact the Legal Team so that they can make other arrangements if the lawyer does not particularly wish to continue acting for you. Tell the lawyer the exact circumstances of your arrest and let him or her know that you will refuse an immediate court appearance. Ask him what guarantees ("garanties de representation") you may be required to provide, tell him or her where he or she may be able to obtain these guarantees and make sure he or she provides the Legal Team with the information in question.

You may ask your lawyer to let someone know what has happened immediately, but the telephone call will be made by a police person. You can use this possibility to have the Legal Team know you are under arrest if you are not sure they have already been told.

You may ask for food but you will have to pay for it and it may not be forthcoming.

As soon as you leave the police station, try down everything you may have told the police during the identity control and your arrest ("garde à vue"). The Legal Team needs information which is as precise as possible.

Minors: You can be held under arrest (en "garde-à-vue") from the age of 13. You will be brought before a juveniles' court. There is no immediate court hearing procedure for juveniles. You will automatically be provided with the services of a lawyer .You should request a court-appointed lawyer ("avocat(e) commis d'office". The police may decide to telephone your parents, or another person in loco parentis prior to your release, which is why is may be helpful to ask your parents to provide you with a discharge ("décharge légale"). The text of this should read "X is provisionally entrusted with legally responsibillity for my child" ("Je confie la garde de mon enfant de façon temporaire à ..."), and should be accompanied by a photocopy of your parents' passport or identity card.

[part 2]