France: Passengers to face trial for preventing a violent deportation
A trial date has been set for a 54-year-old Italian anthropologist, Franco La Cecla, and two Frenchmen, including a Libération journalist, whose complaints prevented the forceful deportation of a Congolese migrant to Senegal in an Air Horizon charter flight on which he was embarked on 15 December 2004 in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
They will face charges in Bobigny on 26 May 2005 for:
"having prevented the departure of the Air Horizon flight RN 322 from Paris to Dakar, encouraging passengers to get a person who had not been admitted into the [French] national terroritory and his escort to disembark, contravening security regulations and take-off procedures, causing a delay of 4 hours and 9 minutes"
carrying a maximum prison sentence of five years. La Cecla was seated in the aeroplane's penultimate row, in front of the migrant and the two policemen who were escorting him. The migrant was reportedly crying, shouting and struggling to get up. His face was smashed against La Cecla's seat, his head was grabbed and pushed to the floor, and at one point, a glove was placed in his mouth to quieten him down. Nonetheless, the migrant continued to scream and struggle, so he was also slapped. Some travellers complained, and La Cecla and two others alerted the captain, asking to be let off if the problem persisted. The captain ordered the policemen accompanying the migrant to leave the plane, which they did, to cheers by the flight's passengers. Shortly afterwards, La Cecla and the other two passengers who asked to be let off the flight were arrested, held for 19 hours, questioned and had their fingerprints taken.
This is not the first time that passengers objecting to the deportation of migrants in their flights end up facing trials as a result of their actions in France. On 2 September 2004, four passengers were acquitted after appearing in court facing charges of "obstructing the circulation of an aircraft and provoking disobedience [to figures of public authority]" in relation to a failed deportation attempt in a flight to Bamako (Mali) on 21 July 2004. The trial also saw the French airline Air France taking part as a plaintiff, claiming 10,000 Euros in damages and interests. The court found that no one could be individually found guilty for the events leading to the charges on both counts. Two more trials in relation to failed deportation attempts started on 19 October and 3 November 2004 in Bobigny, the courtroom whose jurisdiction includes Charles de Gaulle airport. In the context of forced deportations on flights, it must be noted that they have sometimes led to the death of migrants who were being removed from France: in Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport on 30 December 2002, the 52-year-old Argentinean Ricardo Barrientos died on an Air France flight after he was restrained by the police officers who were escorting him; a 24-year-old Somali, Mariame Getu Hagos died during his attempted deportation to South Africa (also on an Air France flight) on 16 January 2003; in August 1991 Arumum Sivasampu Esan, a rejected Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seeker, died during the second attempt to deport him to Colombo from France (see Statewatch vol 8 no 5).
Corriere della Sera, 7.2.2005;
Collectif anti-expulsions, 23.9.2004, available at: http://pajol.eu.org/article629.html;
'Mass deportations by charter flight - enforcement and resistance', Statewatch bulletin vol.13 no.2, March-April 2003;
Argentine migrant dies during forced deportation' & 'Outrage over deaths of migrants being deported', Statewatch news online, January 2003.
Testimony from a deportation flight
[Statewatch translation of a letter by Franco La Cecla, published in Libération on 23 December 2004, only a week after the events.]
Prison for having had pity
How can we refer to a country that accepts to make a spectacle of the misery in the world? Cynical? Post-fascist? Post- Berlusconian? On Wednesday 15 December we were on board an Air Horizon charter flight that was about to take-off destined for Dakar on the runway of Charles-de Gaulle airport. At the end of the aeroplane, someone shouts desperately. The stewardesses welcome the passengers with a smile. Is it a child that is crying? No, it's a young Congolese who is being sent back to his country, escorted by two policemen.
There is no distance between them and the passengers; the policemen act reassuringly and claim that they will quieten him down. He shouts: "I'm not a slave". His eyes are out of their orbits, his face is choked up. The passengers turn around, nervous, troubled by this vision that brings together the desperation of someone's last chance and the "scientific" methods used by the policemen who, now and again, make him disappear under his seat. They tell us not to worry, that everything is taking place normally. The flight is already very delayed, motionless on the runway. The situation becomes grotesque, the stewardesses continue to smile and the passengers worry about what they should do. Be scared? The sans-papiers is threatening to kill others or himself. Take pity? No, the policemen say not to turn around, not to worry about this business, which they are going to handle themselves.
A few of us passengers go to look for the captain to ask him how it will be possible for a flight to be carried out (with a stop-over in Brest) in these conditions. One Senegalese passenger tells of how a sans-papiers was shouting for seven hours consecutively on another Air Horizon flight. Many among us are troubled, confused. The captain announces that he has decided, by virtue of his powers, that the sans-papier should be let off and asks us, me and two other persons, for our passports in order to support his position. When we were called to retrieve them, we were immediately handcuffed and transferred to the prison of the police station in Charles-de-Gaulle airport.
Let us pass to the manner in which we were treated. We were stripped of any right, we could not even telephone our embassies, or our parents; we were undressed, searched, warned that we would face some serious inconveniences and that we were not about to be released. Let us go on to the conditions: rabble, lack of privacy, dirtyness, manners that were more than rude, a hole as a toilet. A prison where we didn't even enjoy the rights that apply in prisons. We had to wait for twelve hours before we could perceive an outcome and understand that we had the right to escape from this nightmare.
Worse still, we are guilty of having had some sensitivity, some pity, some human reactions, of having refused to accept the spectacle of someone else's suffering as "normal".
Franco La Cecla
The original text (in French) is available at: http://www.liberation.fr/page.php?Article=263652&AG
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