French Justice and May Day Protestors – Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The Paris court on Thursday [May 2nd – ed] tried several May 1st demonstrators in Paris, or alleged as such. The almost systematic use of the article [of the penal code – ed] “participation in a group with a view to” violence allows the prosecution to emancipate itself from the facts. It is now the intentions and presuppositions that are judged, with the result being the terrible distribution of prison sentences.

Welcome to predictive justice! The facts are of little importance; only now do the unknown or little-documented certainties of the prosecution against demonstrators – or presumed to be so – dressed as breakers by the prosecution. The immediate appearance hearings held Thursday, May 2nd, at the Paris court to judge people arrested the day before have made an illuminating demonstration of this. The almost systematic use of Article 222-14-2 of the Penal Code makes it possible to judge not only the infractions or offences actually committed, but also the alleged intention to commit them.

“Participation in a group formed with a view to preparing violence against people and damage to property.” Born and applied for the first time in 2010 under Sarkozy to curb violence in football stadiums, this article 222-14-2 was denounced as a means of criminalising demonstrations. “For the sake of” is to overthrow this fundamental principle of law: the presumption of innocence is replaced by presumed guilt. This is how it was understood by the prosecutor’s office, which, on Thursday, asked for prison sentences against people arrested even before the May Day demonstration began.

The lawyers of defendants protested – “They are judging intentions, they presuppose” – the court didn’t at all moderate the ardor of a prosecutor, Johanna Brousse, who was determined to pay homage to the exemplarity “of our law enforcement” in front of the chaos. Here are some examples.

Didier, 38, roofing worker, from Kingersheim (Haut-Rhin)

Didier was arrested on Wednesday [May 1st – ed] at 11:34 (three hours before the start of the demonstration), not far from the Montparnasse station. The police found in his bag a gas mask with filter cartridges and, at the bottom, about twenty small nails. “I’m a roofer, they are nails that are always used at work, they were hidden in the lining of the bottom of the bag, I did not even know that I had them,” he said.

A male, married, with two children, a home owner, he describes himself as a “convinced pacifist”. He says he loves nature, is also a beekeeper, and certainly did not intend to commit violence. Maybe, but “this mask, a weapon of war that allows to change the ratio of power against the police”?, asked the prosecutor. “On March 16th I came to protest and I was so gassed that I wanted to protect myself this time,” said Didier, accompanied on Wednesday by two friends who had not been arrested.

His phone was searched, a video from March 16th was found: a Nike store is being destroyed and Didier, a spectator, makes enthusiastic comments. “In the tension, my words went beyond my thought, but it’s true that I hate this brand,” he said. A mask, a handful of small nails, a video … Six months of imprisonment are demanded, as well as a ban on attending demonstrations and going to Paris for a year. “Yes, the gentleman presents well, but we must not let him continue his actions. Instead of participating in a project where something is built, his will is, on the contrary, to deconstruct!” believed the prosecutor.

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Didier was sentenced to three months in prison and given a 1-year ban on entering Paris. A penalty enforcement judge will be responsible for defining the conditions for the implementation of the judgment.

Yohann, 21, a cook and seasonal worker, from La Cadière-d’Azur (Var region)

Yohann, after spending 24 hours in custody, found himself a little lost in front of the court. The prosecutor summed it up in the following way: “The gentlemen is pretending to lose his neurones in the hearing room”. The young man was arrested on Wednesday at 11:13 am. In his bag – a ski mask, shin guards, bandages, small medical equipment, a small bag of children’s marbles, and two black and grey sweatshirts.

And well, here’s one, at last, black bloc! Yohann defends himself and says he was hosted by a friend. But his mobile phone has spoken, the prosecution believes, citing messages. “With the black blocs, the apartment was provided”, “I go to the demonstration, it is war you know, warrior to the end”. And when one of his acquaintances, a 14-year-old boy, said to him, “Go ahead, make a homemade bomb,” Yohann replied, “Ah no, not that, that’s direct prison.”

Without a driving license, Yohann lives isolated in La Cadière-d’Azur, in the Var countryside, and vicariously lives and videos events. “I saw shocking, very violent scenes. But yes, this time, I planned to demonstrate. The medical equipment was just in case and to help people. The marbles, I told myself that I would throw them on the ground to make a diversion if I was arrested, the sweatshirts, it was my spare clothes”. Yohann took the direction of the police station well before the protest. “He has never been reported for violence, he is youth, a bit immature, who is an exaggerator on Snapchat, that’s all,” said his lawyer.

The prosecution does not hear it that way. Marbles and a black sweatshirt, it’s signed black bloc! “Coming to Paris to make war, that’s brilliant!” said the prosecutor. She is asking for eight months of suspended imprisonment and 210 hours of community service. “You have to show him real life, that of precisely the yellow vests that he says he supports. And rather than his anarchist will, it is better that he understands what the value of work is,” she argued.

Yohann was sentenced to three months suspended imprisonment, 105 hours of community service, and one year of prohibition to demonstrate and come to Paris.

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Hugo, Anaël, Julien, François, Opale, aged 24 to 31, from Essonne, Brittany, South-West

Here there is a nice group of “marginals” and zadistes! The five friends – “a group”, therefore – refuse to be judged in immediate appearance, which is an express procedure, and requested a referral to a traditional hearing of the Criminal Court in order to have time to prepare their defence. It’s legal, but it annoys the court.

The five young people were arrested at 7:30 am on Wednesday. They have small jobs, two of them are in a couple and live in an apartment in Ulis (Essonne), one is a seasonal workers, and another is a volunteer in an association. They were sleeping in a van, not far from the ring road. The police believed that they picked well: two gas camping cartridges, small stoves, gloves with protection, a slingshot, and dishes. The assignment of objects to one or another is random and varies according to the inquiry sheets. The slingshot is thus attributed to four people. And the prosecutor is certain: “Gas cylinders, just imagine! This is used to make molotov cocktails,” without further documentation of this astonishing technical discovery.

The hearing will be postponed for six weeks. What to do until then? The prosecution is convinced that the band must be neutralised to prevent a repetition of the offences and not to take “the risk of a characteristic renewal of the facts”. Even if the supposed facts did not take place. For two people, strict judicial control is demanded. For the other three, it is a pre-trial detention with a warrant of committal until the next hearing that is required. The court follows all the requisitions of the prosecutor.

Therefore prison, as a preventive measure. Hugo has just been sentenced to one month in prison for acts committed in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, he was supposed to leave the cell the same evening. His detention will be extended until the hearing. Julien was also detained because he was sentenced for public harm two years ago, with no mention of this conviction. Anaël does not have a criminal record. But he appealed against a sentence pronounced last December following a demonstration (use of a smoke rocket).

Francis, 34, unemployed, from Rennes

Francis is also being prosecuted for “grouping with a view to …” but also for refusing to give the police the access code of his phone, and also for refusing DNA sampling. The former head of fundraising for an association in Paris, he was fired at the end of last year and moved to Rennes with his wife teacher. “I got a driver’s license and looked for a job in Rennes,” he summarised.

He was arrested on Wednesday with a helmet, swimming goggles, a face mask, and a Benalla mask. Francis wanted to go to the “Benalla Bloc” during this demonstration [May 1st – ed] in the rally organised by “Attac”. The reasons for his arrest are not really understood. “Moreover, I was not in a group or I was in a group consisting of just myself. On the other hand, there was a big group of CRS in the street,” he specified, asking for the his judgment to be overturned, assured, as he said, that CCTV footage will show all that.

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Believing that he did not commit any offence, Francis refused to “open” his phone for the police and give his fingerprints. “The police even hesitated to take him away, how to argue that he was going to commit violence?”, said his lawyer, who asked to return his phone.

The prosecution does not stop, it was a matter of “preventing the repetition of an offence” through a judicial review and a ban for a year to demonstrate and be in Paris. Judgment: judicial review and stay in Paris until the next hearing.

Damien, 35, from Lyon

Damien is also linked with article “grouping in view to…”, embellished with accusations of rebellion and violence. He was arrested at 1:10 pm at the intersection of Boulevard Raspail and Montparnasse. A telecommunication editor, based in Lyon for a year, he earns €1,700 per month. His arrest report indicates: he threw a tear gas grenade at the police and then rebelled during his arrest by the Anti-Crime Brigade, gesticulating in all directions.

It’s a different story that Damien tells. So, on Wednesday, without any protection, not far from the CRS, he held a big flag in both hands. This was at the time of the first gassings on the Boulevard du Montparnasse. “Tear gas also starting to land on me. One arrived at my feet, little canisters were near me and the smoke rose, I kicked them to repel them because I had no mask, nothing. Ten minutes later, the Anti-Crime Brigades jumped on me, slammed me on the ground, hit my head on the floor, and then pulled me behind a van. I protested. They told me: ‘You, you’re from the South with your accent, you’re going to eat well’, and it started again, they restrained my arms and took me away. But what do you want me to do – to rebel!?”

CCTV images only show a confusing, unreadable scene. “The facts are very clear and precisely described, there is a clear intention to fight,” said the prosecutor. “This grenade throw could have had dramatic consequences for law enforcement, causing burns or serious injury,” she added, momentarily forgetting that the same grenades were fired by the thousands – and sometimes in an aimed manner- at the demonstrators.

Requisition: eight months in prison. Judgment: three months in prison and trial before the judge for the enforcement of sentences, prohibition to demonstrate and to stay in Paris for one year.

François Bonnet, Mediapart

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