NO BORDER : Brussels Police sentenced for compensation and moral damage

12 mars 2015


Five No Border activists had the courage and determination to cite the Belgian State and the Brussels Police zone before the Court of First Instance. It is their preventive and abusive arrests, violently carried out in a climate of widespread repression that they wished to see condemned.

Their case was significant of all arrests endured by so many people during that period in Brussels. Indeed, in the context of the No Border camp week in September 2010 it was not nice to look like being a participant of the camp organised in order to reflect and denounce the capitalistic policies including the racist European ones against migrants.

Throughout that week the physical, mental degrading treatment as well as insults took place in an outrageous manner by the police who had invaded the ground and taken their marks. All over Brussels, cavalry, dogs, uniformed and plain-clothes police were deployed abusing their rights by arresting all those they met and suspected by their clothing to belong to the No Border camp. These arrests have reached a staggering almost 500 in total. (289 on 29 September and nearly 200 on 1 October, 2010).

Although evidence related to what those arrested have suffered through police were alarming and odious, it was very difficult to turn them all into complaints in proper form. At the time the legal team and the LDH (Human Rights League) received dozens and dozens of complaints and testimonies but the complaint procedures are very complicated and the whole processes confusing, therefore only a few were successful.

However, 5 German activists had managed to file a complaint against the police for its actions Action
Actions
Valeur mobilière émise par une société par actions. Ce titre représente une fraction du capital social. Il donne au titulaire (l’actionnaire) le droit notamment de recevoir une part des bénéfices distribués (le dividende) et de participer aux assemblées générales.
they had suffered during their arrest and at the police station « Amigo ». These activists had been arrested in the street, not even during any demo or other activity, just walking. They then had been insulted, stripped, treated in a racist, humiliating way and some personal effects stolen. They had been handcuffed, obliged to listen to the singing of « Deutschland über alles » by one police officer and undergone other threats. Their complaints however, did not get through the Council Chamber (that has to decide whether to pursue the case or not), since it decided that it did not have « sufficient evidence » to send the six accused police officers to the criminal court ! Nothing, no follow, only one officer blamed because of the disappearance of clothes ! However, the five victims were ordered to pay the court costs …

This shows that verbal abuse, psychological or physical violences from the police are really something very difficult to present to a criminal court. This even though detailed and corresponding accounts of the five complainants were particularly frightening and abominable, no sanctions for the transgressing policewo-men .

Given the time that had passed and in absence of victims who wanted to actually lodge a complaint, only the element of « arbitrary preventive arrest » was chosen for the court action.

Indeed, beyond the excesses of the treatment endured before and during the arrests, there was the arrests themselves on stake. This is on what the five activists decided to introduce civil proceedings at the trial Court of Brussels against the Belgian state as well as the Brussels police zone.

These arrests that took place on September 29, 2010 the day of the Euro-demonstration organised by European trade unions, day during which no fewer than 289 people have been deprived of their freedom (called preventive arrests) and transferred to the Barracks of Etterbeek (Gathering Centre for Arrested Persons CRPA ). The people were arrested as from early in the morning at intersections, on the pavement, in the metro, on the benches eating their sandwiches, on their way to the meeting place and finally during the event.
These arbitrary preventive arrests had been planned by the authorities since the CRPA had been carefully organised for them. Far from applying the beautiful theory of « negotiated management of public space » or « to make arrests, ensuring the possibility of freedom of speech » it was the exact opposite that happened.
The persons were violently arrested and deprived form liberty, waiting for very long hours before being released, a small waffle and humiliation in the stomach …

It is to face the State and its police with their responsibilities that the complainants decided to bring the case to court. The vast majority of victims of these acts had not been able or willing to go further. Indeed, the psychological trauma or distance or lack of credit given to the judicial system discouraged them.

The verdict of this trial was given and is in various aspects quite interesting.

Three complainants had been arrested in the metro station Ribaucourt with a further thirty people on their way to the meeting place of the demo. The other two complainants were arrested whilst peacefully taking part in the demonstration.

Regarding the arrests in the metro, the judge considers that : the fact that some people were wearing (clown) make-up, appears as an attempt by the police forces to justify themselves, but a posteriori the arrest, above that, they arrested the whole group, regardless of any make-up or not.
The judge further states that it is common for protesters to choose original clothings to catch the attention of the public, the media or give a playful side to the event. The principle being that « people should be arrested for what they do, not for what they are. » But here had been no disturbance of public tranquillity, neither actual nor potential during the arrest nor any offences.

The court therefore condemned the police zone to compensation for the three complainants.

Regarding the two other complainants arrested during the demonstration, the judgement is tinged with understanding by the court. « The general context was unstable, » it also takes the argument so many times repeated, of the "presence of hooded protesters who were inauspicious. Therefore the police could not at that time, make a selection.” In practice, however, this is what the the police actually did, since the undercover police disguised and hooded to make believe they are demonstrators, were not arrested ! Yet they were many. At the moment of pulling out their telescoping truncheon and when they started to hit, residents from nearby windows thought they were demonstrators ! Certainly from the helicopter whose images are also used in trials, it was not possible to distinguish the masked police sticks in hand from true demonstrators.

Moreover, the court considers that the police have reasoned that the only solution to prevent an imminent disturbance of public tranquillity was to organise preventive arrests. They do not for the judge, appear disproportionate. And to conclude that there was no unlawful interference with the freedom to gather or to demonstrate.

However, the very conditions of arrests and detentions are being taken differently by the judge. He expresses that maintaining handcuffs during the transfer was not justified under the simple and vague allusion that people had a « poorly cooperating profile. » Moreover, cutting short to a practice that police attempts to justify on several occasions, he said that the generalised photographing is not justified.

Indeed, any mixture of « profiles » of demonstrators does not allow to treat them indifferently. It is in vain that the police allege that the photos were intended only for identification purpose, “since the complainants were in possession of their identity card.”

Could it be that there is here another reason, such as a large-scale European filing so that several states dispose of a lists of activists who challenge the current policies ?

The judge says that « taking pictures of people subject to a brief imprisonment (...) can occur only when necessary for identification or for legal purposes and can therefore NEVER be undertaken systematically. »

As for the duration of the arrests he indicates that the fact that it can last 12 hours, does not mean one can be maintained so long unnecessarily. But in this case he says that it is not possible to characterise it as a given fault due to the circumstances.

The court orders the police zone to moral damages for the two complainants.



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