Last updated on 28th July 2019
For four months a young man has been locked up in Toulouse. He isn’t accused of committing any real offence. But his anarchist views have put him on trial for “criminal conspiracy” … all by himself. He is appearing this Friday [May 17th – ed] in front of the judge.
In prison for a set of keys. This is how we could summarise the case of “R.”, a 26-year-old man indicted for “criminal conspiracy” and detained for nearly four months at Seysses Prison (Haute-Garonne).
On February 2nd, R. took care of the daughter of a friend at their home. This was a Saturday, the day of a Yellow Vests demonstration, and seeing the police search demonstrators, R. went down to the street to watch the scene. He was also arrested by the police, and refused to give his identity.
Faced with the police, the young man, of Swiss nationality, claimed to be called “Jerome Schmidt”, an imaginary name. At first he is taken to the police station for identity verification and then taken into custody after refusing to give his DNA and fingerprints. In French law, this refusal constitutes an offence. R. was also in possession of a bunch of keys that attracted police attention. Among them, an Allen key – the type used to repair a bicycle and keys for opening building halls and mailboxes. Therefore, the investigators were convinced that this is material evidence proving the membership of R. to an ultra-left movement. In their minutes, they said that these keys are “characteristic of the operation of ultra-left activists driving the Yellow Vests movement and their demonstrations, at least in the city of Toulouse.”
On February 4th R. was introduced to Elodie Billot, the investigating judge of the Toulouse tribunal of the first instance. She then examined him and placed him in pre-trial detention. What is he reproached for? In addition to refusing to undergo a DNA test, to give his fingerprints, and the usurpation of a third party’s name, R. is indicted for “criminal conspiracy for the preparation of acts of destruction and serious harm”, a crime punishable by ten years of imprisonment.
In this case, the police also rely on the “context” of the minutes of proceedings. These documents that trace minute by minute the progress of the weekly Yellow Vests demonstrations are added to the record of R. An aberration for Claire Dujardin, one of his lawyers: “He is accused of everything and nothing, of being black bloc, of committing offences during Yellow Vest demonstrations, while there aren’t minutes of proceedings in context where the name of my client stands out. Once we acquainted ourselves with the dossier, we discovered that it is empty. The Advocate General acknowledged the absence of co-authors but considers that he will find some. Let’s say that the police version is accurate, that there are co-authors, people who have hidden objects in buildings for Saturday’s protests. Where are these people? Where are the things they would have deposited in these buildings? In this case, there is no specific fact, only suppositions based on a set of keys. In immediate appearance, this dossier does not hold.”
The “evidence”? Yellow Vests brochures and political books
No photo or physical evidence is in the dossier, but elements found in the home of R. tend to link him to the anarchist milieu of Toulouse. Two days after his indictment, two searches took place in the early evening. One at the home of a friend whose daughter was being kept by R., and the other at his own home. 40 police officers and 2 members of the General Directorate of Internal Security (DGSI) combed the home of R. for three hours. They grabbed computers, phones, leaflets, banners, but also Yellow Vests brochures and books about state violence. “There is a discrepancy between the reality, i.e., the fact that he is campaigning with friends, and the prosecutor’s account of him as an evil anarchist,” denounced one of the housemates of R. “The idea is to make people believe that activists manipulate the Yellow Vests movement, as if the demonstrating people are unable to think for themselves.”
The Yellow Vests social movement is manipulated by ultra-left movements? That’s what the investigators think. A few months ago, this hypothesis was however contradicted … by Nicolas Lerner, boss of the DGSI. In an interview with the daily “Le Parisien” last February, he said that “at no time have the ultras groups managed to take leadership on this movement, even if they see it as an opportunity to attack the symbols of the Republic, which are their usual targets.”
What is supported by facts, however, is the criminalisation of protesters, denounces Me Philippe de Veulle, a lawyer at the Paris Bar and co-founder of the collective “Black Robes and Yellow Vests”. For this Parisian lawyer, the affair of R. is an example of the government’s authoritarian shift vis-a-vis the social movement: “This story confirms my denunciations about the nature of this regime. With this social movement, we are confronted with exceptional justice that will be a milestone in history. If this young man is suspected, the police have the means to wiretap or tail him. There is no proof strong enough to deprive him of freedom, but when it comes to Yellow Vests, all means are good to exercise extraordinary justice.”
One question: why is R. still detained?
In Toulouse, like across the entire the territory, several judicial files concerning the Yellow Vests were opened for the crime of criminal conspiracy. An offence that allows since the law of June 3rd 2016 – promulgated in the context of the fight against terrorism – to use investigative techniques previously reserved for intelligence services.
Part of the motion filed on April 11th by the lawyers of R. for the nullification of the procedure concerning his arrest and indictment was successful: he is no longer charged with refusing to give his DNA and fingerprints. There still remains the usurpation of a third party’s name, criminal conspiracy, and the question: why is R. still detained?
“The Advocate General refers to ‘detention for convenience’ for the purposes of the investigation, but this does not exist in law. This case is not a judicial procedure but a dossier of General Intelligence (GI) that is being judiciarised. The GI notes are not on file, there is no equality of arms to defend my client. The fact that an investigating judge validates such a procedure is shocking,” said Cécile Brandely, the second lawyer of R. This Friday [May 17th – ed] she will plead before the custodial judge to try to obtain the release of R. on June 4th.
Vanessa Vertus, Reporterre