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Gérard Coupat: "Fearing They Will Revolt, the State Puts its Youth in Prison"

Translated Tuesday 30 December 2008, by Henry Crapo

Interview with the father of a youth detained in criminal proceedings following the sabotage of catenaries for the fast train service, the TGV, and the subsequent police raid on the village of Tarnac in early November.

Tarnac: The appeal for Julian Coupat’s liberation should be examined by the court today. His father, Gérard Coupat, denounces the political motivation for the incarceration of his son and his female companion.

Today, Julian Coupat and his companion Yidune, still in jail and the last two to be charged in Tarnac, could conceivably be freed. Julian’s father, Gérard Coupat, a retired doctor, gives us his analysis of what is nothing but political and police manipulation.

Huma: In practical terms, what is going to happen today?

Gérard Coupat:On Friday, the judge announced his decision that my son should be freed. The prosecution immediately appealed the decision, invoking an emergency ruling used to suspend the freeing of a provisionally jailed person when his release might prejudice an ongoing investigation or when it might endanger the public order. If she finds that there is no compelling reason to keep him in jail, Julian will be released immediately. If, on the contrary, she finds that the emergency ruling is legitimate, Julien will not be able to get out immediately, but will have his appeal examined on Friday. If that is refused, he will spend the end of the year behind bars, contrary to the completely politically independent judge’s opinion. Since it was politics that made this happen, the obstacles may well persist. But that would be pure stupidity keeping Julien and Yidune in prison without cause at a time when social movements are planned for January. It’s taking the risk of making heroes of them. If I were sitting as Minister of the Interior or of Justice, I would free them immediately. Unfortunately, at this point, clear-sightedness does not seem to be one of their best qualities.

Huma: How did you react when the judge decided to release Julien?

Gérard Coupat: If I were say I was relieved, it would be an exaggeration, because, from the very start, I knew that this affair was purely political. Nevertheless, I appreciated that an independent magistrate said that having seen the files, they could not keep my son in prison, as had the earlier judges for the other people from Tarnac incriminated in the affair. This only goes further to weaken Michèle Alliot-Marie’s position that Julien is a head terrorist, as if we were involved in an affair like the Red Brigade or the Baader Band.

Huma: From the beginning, you have denounced political manipulation?

Gérard Coupat: Clearly so. Despite that, I am anything but politicised. In the last presidential election, I voted for for the centrist Bayrou, and then the Socialist Royal. Having seen the farm attacked by a hundred or so policemen, and having asked ourselves for a moment, under emotional pressure, whether our son had gone overboard, we asked ourselves, since when do anti-terrorist operations take place on camera (live TV)? Since when does the Minister of the Interior seize the microphone and cry victory before people are charged.
This is contrary to all the laws of the Republic, and I’m still amazed that people like these can hold ministerial posts. Having watched the Ministry of the Interior and of Justice operating for over a month now I’ve come to the point where I’m beginning to understand those young people who no longer vote: a bunch of politicians like this doesn’t merit our votes! And not to mention the long time it took the opposition, with the exception of Noël Mamère, Patrick Braouezec and Nicole Borvo for the French Communist Party, along with some Socialists speaking as individuals, to express themselves denouncing this slimy affair.

Huma: Have you carried out your own inquiry?

Gérard Coupat: In the beginning, I asked one of my relatives, with an important position in the railway system, to see whether the engineers could look into the feasibility of what was being blamed on the people from Tarnac.
Given the position taken by the head of the SNCF, the French national railway company, they told me that it would not have been possible. It is thus thanks to union members that I was able to meet technicians who told me how hair-brained it is to imagine that Julien and Yidune could manage to attach those iron bars to the catenary system. It could only be performed highly-trained personnel, and certainly not by only two laymen. This is not to mention the problems of residual electricity in the cables carrying 25,000 volts. Thus, the hypothesis the police never took seriously, because it would be an obstacle for their plans, was known from the beginning by German ecologists who have already been using these methods for 20 years. Another hypothesis: this is just another case of secret agents in disguise. It would scarcely surprise me, because I can’t imagine where those bullet-proof jackets that were found on the farm in Tarnac could have come from. A farm that is, I say in passing, the only farm in the Corrèze where there have ever been firearms. Fortunately, the person whom they wanted to sign the seals on the evidence refused to do so.

Huma: In your opinion, what does the government aim to gain?

Gérard Coupat: Since 11 September 2001, we have been faced with a marketing of fear. It has become a means of political management. And if, in this case, there has been a protective barrier created around suburban youth, the youth of Tarnac, the political powers are aiming essentially at the politicized middle class youth bearing the brunt of the current confrontation. Politicians know that in January and February, it will explode because we can’t accept another 150,000 unemployed and, at the same time, hand over billions of euros to save the banks, nor the cuts in national education, a system that has already been out of touch for two generations.

There will thus be big demonstrations where we will find the middle class youth, who are beginning to budge, because, having completed some studies, they know they are headed straight for a brick wall, that a society is being put in place which will be unacceptable for them. Since the government does not want to see these youth as an element to set off a revolt, they will put them in jail.

Huma: You were able to see Julien this weekend? How is he doing?

Gérard Coupat: Physically, he’s doing just fine. But he’s like a lion in a cage. In a prison you can do nothing to make yourself heard, or to defend yourself. What’s more, we, his family are not professionals in communication. The proof was the last television interview granted to us. While I was trying to explain that my son is anything but a terrorist, the images being shown were of riots of extreme violence. To your mind, what were the television viewers absorbing, my explanations or the images? But this is almost normal. In France, television belongs either to the State or to the president’s pals. The result: on the first day, the youth of Tarnac were judged guilty, and presented as such.

At the same time, I’m not angry with the magistrates. I know under what conditions they work, and under what pressure. The main person responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves is the Interior Minister. She wanted to strike a blow, and when it fell through, she started to lash out.

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