stand, shorter sentences on appeal for Vincennes detention centre
On 13 January
2012 in the Paris appeal court, the presiding judge in the appeal
involving six of the ten detainees in the Vincennes detention
centre (CRA, centre de rétention administrative) who were
convicted on 17 March 2010 in connection with a fire that burned
down the CRA on 22 June 2008 read the ruling that upheld their
convictions and shortened the sentences they were set to serve
by six months.
The ruling noted that the Vincennes detention centre was "artificially
divided" into two and that the large numbers held there
"facilitated the disturbances", and that external factors
such as the fact that fire extinguishers were not charged, the
mattresses were not fire-proof and that the facility was supported
by a light structure helped the fire to grow. Thus, MD received
the longest sentence, 30 months, four others were handed two-year
prison sentences, and the sixth was sentenced to serve six months.
Two defendants were also ordered to pay 9,864.22 euros to compensate
the injuries suffered by police officers, and 50 euros to five
Throughout both trials, defence lawyers stressed that it had
been a collective mobilisation caused by an "abusive"
detention system, and that charging just a few people out of
250 was questionable, particularly as the evidence was "slight
if not non-existent". Key elements of the first trial included
a failure to relate the protest and fire to the regime that detainees
were subjected to in Vincennes and to the controversial death
of a Tunisian detainee, Mr. Salem Souli, on 21 June 2008, the
day before the fire. On 5 July 2010, the Commission nationale
de déontologie de la sécurité (CNDS, national
commission for the professional ethics of security forces) was
critical of the decision to keep the man in detention in spite
of his poor health conditions. Defence lawyers repeatedly walked
out of proceedings in the first trial, arguing that it was a
"foregone conclusion" and had been "demeaned",
in view of the way in which it had been framed, isolating the
fire from the death of Mr. Souli, conditions in the centre, previous
repressions of protests, the use of inconclusive video evidence
and over-reliance on statements by guards and police officers.
Almost all the participants in a demonstration on the following
day outside Vincennes detention centre were kettled and held
in a police station.
The following is a translation of the account of the appeal's
last hearing from Migreurop (source for the above report),
which has monitored both the trial and appeal in the framework
of its campaign for a right of access in detention centres. It
also focusses on the mass arrest of activists during a demonstration
outside the Vincennes detention centre on the day after the appeal
Vincennes "accused", the appeal's verdict: lighter
sentences but guilt confirmed
(30 January 2012)
Friday 13 January 2012, 13:30.
The courtroom in the court of appeal is full. Many activists
have come to hear the verdict out of solidarity with the Vincennes
"accused". The lawyers for the defence, the public
treasury and the plaintiffs are in the front benches. None of
the "accused" are present.
The president begins by announcing that the court has taken several
criteria into account, beyond their individual situations. On
the one hand, the court recognises that the Vincennes CRA was
"artificially divided" into two centres in 2008 and
that the "concentration of a large number of detainees in
the same place "facilitated the disturbances". On the
other hand, it admits that the fire acquired an important size
due to external factors: the fact that the fire extinguishers
were not charged, that the mattresses were not fire-proof and
that the facility rested on a light structure.
In spite of these findings, the court confirms the personal guilt
of the six who were convicted, thus rejecting the defence's arguments
concerning the collective character of the protest. According
to the president, the people who were charged did not play a
minor or non-existent role, but rather, they actively participated
in starting the fire. The court deems that certain detainees
and not all of them set the fire, which is what the surveillance
camera recordings supposedly bear witness to. The president reaffirmed
that the people were not chosen by chance: in his view, the cameras
show that A.D. is a leader, that M.D. tries to obstruct a camera
and that Ma.D. carries something that is burning. In the other
CRA, M.S. and N.A. are supposedly the only active detainees.
The president admits that other detainees have "undoubtedly"
participated, but concludes, regarding the six convicted people:
"They have not played a minor role, they are not scapegoats".
The six men's guilt is confirmed. The sentences issued against
them have decreased by six months in comparison with those from
the first trial:
A.D.: First trial: 30 months with six months suspended. Appeal:
E.M.: First trial: 12 months without suspension. Appeal: 6 months.
M.D.: First trial: 36 months without suspension. Appeal: 30 months.
Ma.D.: First trial: 30 months with six months suspended. Appeal:
N.A.: First trial: 30 months without suspension. Appeal: 24 months.
M.S.: First trial: 30 months without suspension. Appeal: 24 months.
N.A. and M.S. are also ordered to pay 9,864.22 euros in damages
to the State as a result of the injuries suffered by police officers.
Finally, N.A. and M.S. are ordered to pay 50 euros to five of
the six plaintiffs, as costs that have not been paid by the State
that they must cover.
The president starts reading another ruling, the courtroom empties
and the supporters are bitter. While the court recognised the
importance of several external factors in the fire and slightly
reduced the sentences for the accused, it confirmed their personal
responsibility in the fire and in the CRA's destruction. In view
of the elements that the defence stressed throughout the trial,
it nonetheless appeared that this fire was the result of a collective
movement caused by an abusive detention system, that the trial
of a few men out of around 250 detainees rests on a questionable
choice and that the evidence against them is rather slight, if
not non-existent. One may also wonder whether this verdict that
is simultaneously based on a consensus and strict, which mitigates
the decisions from the first trial without contradicting them,
is mainly aimed at defusing the matter. Finally, it should be
noted that the name of Mr. Souli, who died in the Vincennes detention
centre on the eve of the fire, was not mentioned once during
this last hearing.
Saturday 14 January: a gathering turns into a mass arrest
On the day after the verdict, Saturday 14 January 2012, around
130 people gathered in front of the Vincennes centre for administrative
detention to protest against the existence of these detention
centres and other places of detention. One of the goals of those
who gathered there was to make themselves heard by the sans-papiers
who were held inside the centre, which was achieved (partly thanks
to some bangers). An hour and a half after the start of the demonstration,
the march was blocked by flying squad police officers in a parking
lot near to the CRA. While the gathering was taking place calmly,
the demonstrators were teargassed, shoved and encircled. For
over an hour, they were forced to stay inside the circle [kettled]
while some plainclothes police officers violently broke into
the crowd to catch several activists who they had targeted.
Finally, the 102 people who were kettled, that is, almost the
whole of the initial march, were arrested. Three demonstrators
were held in custody. The remaining 99 were confined on two buses
(some of them for nearly three hours) and were then transferred
to a police station adjacent to a SNCF [French national railways]
depot. This new facility in the 18th district, which is officially
a regional transport police station, has a large courtyard ringed
by barbed wire that is suitable for mass arrests. After undergoing
a search and identification, the demonstrators were held in the
courtyard for several hours. The three people who were held in
custody had an "immediate appearance" before the judge
on Monday 16 January, but the hearing was deferred. The reasons
that were raised [for them being held in custody] were: participation
in an armed gathering, violence against an officer and damaging
The original text, in French, "Inculpés"
de Vincennes, le verdict en appel: peines allégées
mais culpabilité confirmée"
Previous Statewatch coverage
Ten convictions over Vincennes detention centre fire",
Statewatch Journal vol 20 no 1 January-March 2010
CNDS report into Vincennes detention centre death",
Statewatch News Online, July 2010
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