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international bordercamp strasbourg

Press release: Fifteen days time served for the 17 activists who occupied the Ministry of Justice in Strasbourg

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27.Feb.03 - Imagine. You learn that a human being is suffering persecution within a prison, a veritable form of torture. Arrested during a demonstration in july 2002, this person is beaten, held in a police station with a broken wrist, and accused of having broken the hand of a police officer. He is held in pretrial preventative detention and placed in solitary confinement: alone in his cell, alone during exercise breaks, without the right to a single visit. Knowing that wihtout any human contact, being placed in a confined space can provoke serious psychiatric problems, such as depression, trouble with language, distortion of spatial and temporal perception, emotional problems..., you demand a visit. You bang your head agaisnt the inertia of the administration; all visits are refused. You end up learning that, officially, he is given this crual treatment because of his opinions: he is alleged to be anti-prison.

You decide to act. One friday in summer, to get that forbidden visit, you and 16 other people decide to make a small occupation (a common practice in social struggles and activism) of the branch office of the Ministry of Justice in Strasbourg. You arrive. You ring the doorbell. They open the door. You tell the employees that they are free to leave, but they wish to stay, one of them having received orders to do so from their bosses. Everything goes smoothly until the arrival of disproportionately heavy police forces: the National Guard and the Anti-Criminal Brigade.

At this point, events take on a surreal tone. Armed to the teeth, the police break down the door, damaging the office. They handcuff you. They insult you. They humiliate you. They beat you in the lavatories. On the outside, three people who have come to support you are also beaten and arrested (tried for "insulting an officer and resisting arrest" on March 20 2003). They hold you for 48 hours in the police station, under conditions which, though they are normal, are no less intolerable: two sandwiches in two days, nothing to drink, having to cry to be allowed to go to the toilets, isolation, psychological pressure... You learn that you are accused of having taken the Ministry staff hostage.

A prison guard takes you to trial. You stand before the prosecutor. Then a bail judge explains to you that she has received orders to let no one free before trial. The tour leads you along to prison. Thewarm welcome of the prisoners gives you a certain comfort (they remember the balloons you send them over the prison walls with slogans against all prison, and they congratulate you on having "squatted" justice in this way.) Then comes the order of the Major Court for a spectacular immediate trial: faced with such a farce, and sympathizing with the arguments of the defense attorneys, the judge recuses himself from the case, declaring himself incompetent to judge such a serious charge. Finally, you are free after 96 hours of pleading!

This occupation and all the fuss surrounding it have, all the same, gotten something done: soon afterward, the prisoner that you support is allowed to leave solitary confinement and receive visits. But it does not stop there for you: beside himself with rage, the prosecutor gets vindictive and makes an appeal.

Five months later, February 6 2003. Colmar Appeals Court. The six-hour hearing reveals a sinister plot: the witnesses for the prosecution bring forth proofs that not only were they not taken hostage, but that it was the police themselves who blocked all exits to the building from the outside. The prosecutor explains that he told the same to the police, who doubtlessly forgot "in their carelessness" to mention it during the initial hearing. It is impossible to convict you of hostage-taking.

Incapable of giving up, the prosecutor appeals to the authority in charge of setting charges, abandons the charge of hostage-taking but clings stubbornly to the charge of "home invasion," on the pretext that he can't prosecute so many defendants at one time. But you had rung the doorbell. The staff had opened the door. You had entered peacefully.

Verdict three weeks later, february 27 2003: 15 days of prison, converted to time served, for home invasion. The judge gives you a warning: "You had better be good for the next five years." This is his response to the prosecutor's wish, stated during the trial: "We have got to put a stop to these wild occupations; unchecked, there will only be more of them."

It is the practice of occupation itself as a concrete form of social struggle, which is apparently being targeted.

In comparison the prosecutor's original demans, this sentence is an admission of the failure of the judiciary machine. The sentence was obtained, aside from the weakness of the accusation itself, because of the organization of a collective defense of all defendants and the mobilization of those who have occupied, still occupy, and will continue to occupy public and private spaces for a long time in the future (in particular, the autonomous collectives of undocumented migrants). However, despite the "symbolic" character of the penalty, through this judgment, a precedent has been set for judging the occupation of buildings as a serious offense. This does not only concern the 17, not only No Border, and not only activists. It is yet another attack against the forms of struggle that come from the institutional frameworks through which dissent is popularly expressed. When will they make demonstrations themselves a crime?

The hunt for terrorists: a very practical pretext to discredit and repress all forms of dissent.

We do not accept this intolerable set of directions: under the cover of a pretended indulgence, the verdict is a very serious attack on public liberties. We are therefore considering the possibility of appealing the case to the Supreme Court. Three people will be judged on March 20 and risk a heavy sentence in order to justify the police violence that they suffered during our occupation.

We will not be terrorized.

We demand that all charges against those arrested during and after the No Border camp be immediately dropped.

The 17 building occupiers