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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La double peine des militants de Poitiers

by Anne Roy

Double Trouble for the Poitiers Militants.

La double peine des militants de Poitiers.

Translated Friday 30 October 2009, by Alison Billington and reviewed by Henry Crapo

A secure prison sentence for three people after the destruction of the town centre came as a new shock. Students, friends, family and representatives, convinced that these people are paying the price for others’ guilt, demonstrated on Saturday as an expression of their outrage.

A week after the destruction of 10 October, the town centre of Poitiers was filled with crowds again on Saturday. Placards in hand, and with an order from the organizers to “keep calm”, the demonstrators had come to express their solidarity with Samuel and Jean-Salvy, two young students from Poitiers who were given a sentence of one month in a secure prison. Just the day before, the improvised support committee met in a jam-packed university human science lecture theatre. Parents, friends, militants, representatives and university teachers spoke with one voice. As far as they were concerned, the two twenty-year-old students were innocent of the deeds they were blamed for (‘throwing a projectile at police’) and paid the price on others’ behalf, for the powerlessness of the police force and for their militant engagement in grammar school pupils movements and student movements.

The Same Feeling of Malaise: "It’s double trouble raining down on us after the violence," announced one of the friends of the defendants who recalled that they wore neither masks nor disguises on the day of the demonstration. A week before, a demonstration organized by an anti-prison group had created the opportunity for two to three hundred rioting demonstrators in disguises and masks to come and destroy the centre of the town - right in the middle of the street theatre festival. Those who took part in the procession as it left ‘filed past at a run’ all talking about the same feeling of malaise, saying that there was nothing festive going on, contrary to what had been announced on the posters plastered everywhere from here to Paris. Two to three hundred young men and women wearing Venetian masks, silent, swift, without slogan or word of command, scrawling graffiti, shattering shop windows, and ready to fight against the meagre police presence on the scene.

The organizers who had obtained permission for their demonstration reckoned on seventy people. As did the police headquarters. On the day of the demonstration, the twenty to thirty policemen deployed in the town could do nothing. That evening, while the affair made the front page of one of the televised newspapers in the ‘far-left’ category, the police went to ‘23’, the artists district which had hired out its space for the anti-prison day. Fifteen people were arrested during a brutal intervention – only three had participated in the demonstration. After forty-eight hours of police custody, eight were judged in an summary trial, three of whom got secure prison. Samuel and Jean-Salvy got one month each, and Patrick, a homeless man, five months.

"My son, he’s a great redhead, he was arrested because of his huge mop of hair, that’s all; we aren’t a country where human rights are respected, no!" In one cry, Samuel’s mother summed up the common feeling shared in the lecture theatre. They all felt that the young student – "a more kind and gentle student you have never seen" – shown in several videos without a mask but not in the demonstration, had in fact been stopped for questioning about taking part in student rallies. At the time of the police intervention in ‘23’ during the course of which he had been arrested with his friend Jean-Salvy (son of the deputy mayor of Poitiers, also considered innocent by his relatives and by witnesses of events), one of the people present overheard the policemen say, "I recognise you, you were in all the demonstrations."

"He wouldn’t have been arrested if the police hadn’t been from Poitiers. For several years now they have been unable to deal with us students, and obviously they have us marked – Samuel more than the others because of the colour of his hair", despaired Jules Aimé, the young socialist elected to the town hall and who was very active during the grammar school pupils’ movements and student movements. The problem is that During their long stay in custody, the two students admitted in an official report that they threw a brick and then a metal object (in Jean-Salvy’ case), and a stone (in Samuel’s case) against a police vehicle. During the hearing, they went back on their confessions, declaring that they had signed them under pressure — a version of events born out by witnesses —in vain. And their friends told today how, overcome with grief, they saw them set off from the court for prison. "Those who expected to see rioters must have been surprised to see a band of students take each other in their arms, weeping", relates Jules Aimé.

Before the sentences were pronounced, absolutely no information filtered through about the identity of the people arrested, leaving us to suppose that they were the authors of the destruction. The Home Secretary, Brice Hortefeux, had then claimed that they were severely punished. The State Prosecution had granted his wish. "The frontiers of democracy have been crossed", said one rebel among them on Friday. The State Prosecution appealed over a judgement they thought too lenient, "and refuses to comment on the matter".

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