Last updated on 28th July 2019
Arrested as part of the “Yellow Vests” demonstrations, an activist of the social movement, an independent activist, and street medics appeared in court on Thursday and Friday in Toulouse. Never mind the extreme poverty of the charges…
Intimidate, detain, take away. A strong place of the mobilisation of “Yellow Vests”, Toulouse is also a high place of the repression of the movement.
Odile Maurin, 55, president of the association “Handisocial”, appeared Thursday before the TGI for acts of outrage, violence, and obstruction; the judgment was postponed to October 11th. Friday, the custodial judge has extended for four months the detention of R., the activist detained in Seysses prison since February 4th. His lawyers will appeal this decision. Finally, on June 11th, four street medics arrested on May 1st are summoned in a penal composition, an alternative to a criminal trial. Cases that testify to the extent of the ongoing judicial repression.
Certainly less visible than the “disproportionate” use of force by the police and gendarmerie (read the recent report of the Observatory of Toulouse for Police Practices), but equally worrying. In Toulouse, the CaMé (Collectif AutoMedia Etudiant) registered between November 17th 2018 and April 17th 2019 “637 arrests, 403 stays in custody, 124 outbursts, about 30 people incarcerated, 253 months of suspended imprisonment, and 192 months of imprisonment” as a part of the repression of the movement.
Non-exhaustive figures, obtained by cross-checking information from the local press, the activist press, and data from the prefecture. One month later, based on the press releases of the prefecture, we can add 87 arrests and 47 stays in police custody during the five demonstrations held since April 17th.
The charges for which Odile Maurin will be judged in October date back to March 30th. The president of “Handisocial” is known to the local authorities for her activism. Leading a “fight for accessibility” prior to the Yellow Vests mobilisation, she joined them on December 8th: “I have analysed this movement, which calls for social justice and tax and is subjected to strong repression, as if it were also attacking a society in which we only count if we produce,” she summarises.
On March 30th, during Act 20, while she was demonstrating “peacefully, as usual”, sitting in her wheelchair, Odile received tear gas and was targeted by a water cannon at Place Arnaud-Bernard. “I felt that this violence was neither acceptable nor legitimate and so I decided to stay in front of the truck, with my chair, in a position to retaliate,” she said.
During an attempt, rough, to move her with her chair, a police officer manhandled her joystick. The result: another policeman on the ground, knocked over by the chair of Odile, and she was stuck against the truck. After threatening to take her into custody, the agents let her go by promising her a summons. A CT scan would reveal five broken bone fractures on his foot and shin.
At the hearing a fortnight later, she learned that she was being prosecuted for acts of violence, outrage, and “obstruction of a rescue vehicle”. In this case, “this is the water cannon!: she said. Odile Maurin assumes her virulent remarks against the police, posted on Facebook. But not the wheelchair as a “possible weapon” or tool to block a “rescue vehicle” that is not one. “We will plead acquittal on almost all offences,” warns her lawyer Pascal Nakache, who recalled that his client, for her part, had filed a complaint “for violence committed by trustees of public authority”.
R., a Swiss activist who has been incarcerated in the Seysses prison since February 4th, will stay there for four more months, decided the court on May 17th. Following a hearing for the nullification of the procedure on April 11th, the refusal to give fingerprints and DNA was acquitted. He remains pursued for giving an imaginary identity and for “criminal association”. “They reaffirmed that there was need for this comforting instruction to validate elements that emanate from the intelligence services,” underlines his lawyer Claire Dujardin. “This is the problem in this case: we do not working with the law but with intelligence!”
For the authorities, from the beginning, the keychain found on R. on the day of his arrest is proof of his “ultra-left” activities. The elements resulting from the searches carried out following his arrest have not yet been disclosed and “the prosecutor considers it necessary to keep him in detention until the return of letters rogatory have taken place”.
Three “risks” are put forward in case of release: consultation with “coauthors”, the destruction of “evidence”, and his escape to Switzerland. Except that to date, no “coauthor” has appeared in the dossier, the places where “evidence” is supposed to be hidden have all been searched and, as his friends remind him, R. has “his life in Toulouse”.
This does not matter to the prosecutor, who, in his April 11th requisitions, refers to “acts of delinquency committed by individuals themselves claiming to be part of the political fringe of the ultra-left”, which “justifies the checking of the identities of a group of individuals potentially from this movement, whose discussions with the police confirm a strong and sustained political argument”.
In short, although there are no notable facts to support the case, the fantasy of dangerous anarchists calling the shots seems, in this case, to remain tenacious on the side of the prosecution.
“It permanently damages the link between citizens and justice”
Another case in point: a woman and three men between the ages of 22 and 30, street medics, will appear on June 11th, currently at liberation, for “participation in a crowd after a warning for dispersion and concealment of faces” and “voluntary concealment of the face without a legitimate reason during a public demonstration, accompanied by manifest disturbances or manifest risks of disturbing public order”.
These caregivers from Béarn, without a criminal history or militant past, were arrested on May 1st shortly before 19:00, on the side of the Place Jean-Jaurès. “All day, it had gone well with the gendarmes: we introduced ourselves, they let us pass or not, but it was going okay,” said Elodie Chaillot, a 29-year-old nurse, spokesperson for the group.
But the checks are done by plainclothes policemen. A change of tone: “They asked a lot of questions, searched our phones, we had the impression that they wanted to bust a drug ring …” Taken away, handcuffed in a police van, the four were taken to the central police station where 24-hour custody is served to them.
Two weeks later, Elodie is still surprised at the “extraordinary reasoning” put forward to justify the charges: “They told us that our presence at the scene after the dispersal demand encouraged the protesters to stay because they saw carers stay on site.” Medics responsible for the situation when it degenerates, they had to take it into consideration. “We explained to them that we stayed in the end precisely because it was the moment when things were going bad…”
In fact, in this case, like in the others, the accusations seem fragile, wobbly, and built in spite of common sense. “To accuse a woman in a wheelchair of violence against a policemen is just ridiculous …” says Pascal Nakache. And what about the other arrests, February 22nd, of eight Yellow Vests in a Toulouse apartment: accused of wanting to manufacture explosives, they were placed in custody, and their homes were searched. Now under judicial control, their case is still under investigation.
In its articles reporting on the case, the regional newspaper “La Dépêche du Midi” does not hesitate to refer to an “arsenal of war” and to report the presence of “several members of the ultra-left movement” at the meeting. A real prefectural storytelling that doesn’t correspond to reality: “They are real Yellow Vests,” notes Claire Dujardin, who defends them. “People with employment contracts of indefinite duration and families. They are between 30 and 40 years old, not particularly activists, only one or two are unionised. And their record is almost empty: even the police admitted that it was not at all obvious that they intended to make explosives. They had found a recipe for smoke on the Internet … “
This strategy of all-out intimidation is coupled with a desire on the part of the police and justice system to rid the Toulouse processions of protesters from the surrounding departments. “During our detention, they did not stop asking us what we were doing there, why we were in Toulouse and not at home. Obviously, it annoyed them,” said Elodie, a medic from Pau.
When they left, she and her three comrades were “told verbally” that their presence in Toulouse was no longer desired for six months. Eight other street medics arrested that same May 1st, at about the same time, in another district of the center, were released the same evening without any notification or summons. They are from Toulouse.
In another case, for contempt and participation in a “group for the purpose of committing degradations or violence”, an Albigensian was recently given a 3-month suspended prison sentence and a 1-year ban on entering Toulouse. The collective CaMé has identified no less than “76 years of bans on staying or demonstrating in Toulouse” pronounced by the courts of Toulouse between November and April.
These are all measures whose desired deterrent effect sometimes works. The Yellow Vests arrested in February were thus “very tested” by their custody, testifies their lawyer: “They have all been to the psychoanalysts afterwards … Today, they are disgusted; they explain that they made protective banners for protesters and that they will not continue to help others.”
For Elodie Chaillot too, the shower was cold: “All four of us decided to respect the instructions not to come to Toulouse, even if it is only verbal for the moment. And I will avoid the protests.” Julie, 19, one of the street medics from Toulouse arrested and released on May 1st, is struggling to get rid of this experience: “I returned to the demonstration since then, but I am no longer serene. It was my first arrest and this Commissioner made me a little afraid, he put pressure on us. The others have digested, but I did not like, I decided to put a little stop to all that.”
The more seasoned activists resist better: “I am a big mouth and it worried them that I joined the Yellow Vests,” think Odile Maurin. “They have been trying to intimidate me for a little while and thought that by shaking me a little, I would go home. They are wrong. I could have done without such serious charges, but I make a point of honour to go to all the demonstrations. On April 20th they nearly fooled me again [see this video of muscular exchanges with the police, filmed that day].”
On the side of R., support activates and politicises the fight. His family has set up a blog and the “Solidaires 31” union has issued a support statement. For Claire Dujardin, the case of the young man, incarcerated for more than three months, questions the political motives of this repression. “It seems that there is a desire to show that some networks in Toulouse are organised and help the Yellow Vests,” she notes. “This in my opinion is a fantasy, dated from the 1970s, but we see that they aim wide. It allows to leave a mark psychologically, to create precedents. We destroy one to put pressure on a hundred … “
His colleague Pascal Nakache, also honorary president of the League of Human Rights, has “the feeling that the judiciary has totally submitted to the executive power. And when we compare the pace of prosecutions and the sentences handed down to Yellow Vests with the way in which investigations into the facts of police violence are conducted, there is a double standard that is unbearable. Supported by the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Interior. It is a tightly knit chain, a unanimous and planned operation: it is indeed a policy chosen in high places and obediently applied by the public prosecutors.”
With, among other effects, that of “lasting damage to the link between citizens and justice”.
Emmanuel Riondé, Mediapart