28 March 2012
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Policing of 'noborder camp' in Brussels violates basic civil rights
From 25 September to 3 October, a noborder camp (http://www.noborderbxl.eu.org/?lang=en) is taking place in and around Brussels, with demonstrations, public lectures and actions for freedom of movement of people and against repressive migration control. By now a regular feature of the European political landscape, noborder camps are organised to intervene in the migration control regime inland (detention centres) and across borders (border control) and link different struggles and share information in autonomous spaces.
The Brussels noborder camp has been met with high levels of police action. Around 300 camp participants were stopped from attending the European trade union demonstration (http://www.etuc.org/a/7407) against the austerity measures currently implemented by governments as a result of the financial crisis, that took place on 29 September, by simply being arrested under 'preventative' policing laws. A group of Brussels lawyers lodged a complaint on 1 October (https://bxl.indymedia.org/articles/183), demanding that free expression of opinion be respected as a democratic right. Particularly striking is that such a large group of people were arrested within one day at random on the basis of their physical characteristics. A young person who was practising a circus act in a tent near the noborder camp who had no connection with the demonstration was simply arrested on the basis of his appearance when leaving the grounds that the circus tent shares with the camp, and was held for 8 hours. Furthermore, many of the arrests were carried out with the use of excessive violence. One activist informs (https://bxl.indymedia.org/articles/183):
"I was walking calmly in the street, and was arrested by police officers who asked for my identity papers. I gave them [the papers] without any protest. Without any explanation, they took me and locked me up. In the van, I witnessed a policemen hitting a girl on the head and insulting her. When I wanted to intervene, he threatened me. This is unacceptable."
Those that did make it to demonstration were subjected to riot police charges into the demonstrators they identified as belonging to the camp and they were stopped from carrying anarchist or anti-capitalist symbols on banners, which the police confiscated. Rather than this censorship being communicated only internally, however, Brussels police spokesman Christian De Coninck explained in the national paper De Standaard on 30 September that the arrests deliberately targeted "anarchists" because they wanted to "join the demonstration".
Pierre Robert, one of the lawyers who lodged the formal complaint, pointed out that "The right to demonstrate is protected by the European human rights treaty as well as by the Constitution." In a joint press statement (http://bxl.indymedia.org/articles/175), the human rights organisations 'Ligue des droits de l'Homme' (http://www.liguedh.be/) and 'Bruxelles Laïque' (http://www.bxllaique.be/) declared they were deeply worried about the massive infringements of the right to demonstrate through blanket arrests. They intend to monitor the situation throughout the next few days, in particular throughout the final demonstration of the noborder camp on 2 October. The press release states:
"The preventative arrests represent a massive infringement on the right to demonstrate, one of the basic rights of a democracy. People were prevented from exercising their right to take part in a demonstration and express their opinion."
Both organisations also strongly criticised the use of police violence, which they thought "was worthy of a police state". Around 90 people were forced to sit on the street with their hands tied behind their backs for 2 hours, and violence was still used against them by way of using pepperspray and police pushing demonstrators onto the streets with their knees.
The following reports of police arrests and violence against the camp participants are based on the timeline published on Indymedia Brussels, which is updated in real time by media activists in English and French (http://bxl.indymedia.org/action_timelines/timeline-nobordercamp-brussels). Reports on police repression of the demonstrations taking place on 1 and 2 October are not covered here.
26 September: Police stop and search and arrest activists demonstrating against a detention centre - reports of violence against photographer
Belgian police obviously had orders to prevent noborder activists from carrying out any activities and demonstrations throughout the week, as the police interventions started on the first day of the action week in the run up to a demonstration against a detention centre near the railway station of Nossegem outside of Brussels. People going to the demonstration by train were stopped by police at the railway station of Nossegem. Demonstrators were subjected to frisking and identity controls and police filmed the faces of activists. When demonstrators arrived at the detention centre around 3.45 pm, some 11 people were arrested straightaway.
The police encircled the demonstration and intimidated the crowd with helicopters, water canons and horses that were used to push forward the demonstration. Police also snatched and beat up a photographer, a scene that was witnessed by a lawyer, who says the attack was unprovoked. He had taken a picture of a policeman who was injured in the face. That same policeman led the "snatch". The photographer was allegedly pulled behind a bloc of concrete and beaten up. No more facts are known about the event as yet. Another woman was badly hurt by police and brought to hospital. At around 7pm, the demonstration ended and demonstrators return to Brussels, 'escorted' by police on the train. More police is waiting in Brussels at the (Gare du Nord) North train station.
29 September: Police stop noborder activists from joining the trade union demonstration
The police action against noborder activists was at its height in the run-up to the trade union demonstration that took place on 29 September, which the noborder camp wanted to attend in its programme as well. Many people trying to leave the noborder camp, located north-west of Brussels city centre, were arrested on their way to the demonstration, which started at 1pm and left from South station (Midi). Dozens of plain clothed police officers were spotted around the camp and 6 arrests were already confirmed at 12 noon. Police later closed the metro station close to the noborder camp and arrested a group of activist clowns on their way to the demonstration.
All demonstrators arrested
Arrests of noborder activists continued at the demonstration itself, at Place Bara, the meeting place for the anti-capitalist bloc, which in the beginning comprised around 150 people. Police prevented noborder demonstrators, visible by black clothing and anticapitalist banners, from joining the trade union demonstration and confiscated banners with anarchists symbols on it. The Brussels police spokesman Christian De Coninck confirmed the police strategy in the newspaper De Standaard on 30 September with the words "we have arrested 148 protestors preventatively because they had weapons that do not belong here. Further, 96 anarchists were arrested who wanted to join the demonstration".
Accordingly, around 1.40 pm, not even an hour after the demonstration had officially started, about 240 arrested activists were being held at the barracks of the National Reserve of the Federal Police in Etterbeek (Brussels).
Police further confiscated the truck of the noborder activists and stopped the block from proceeding. Some demonstrators then dispersed and tried to join the demonstration individually. The police strategy continued by forcing the anti-capitalist bloc to separate itself from the main march, and police first threatened to charge into the demonstrators and later succeeded in arresting and beating up some demonstrators and dispersing those who were able to join the protest as a group.
The Polish trade union Solidarnosc, that was walking behind the anti-capitalist bloc, was asked by the police to keep a distance from the noborder demonstration.
At around 3pm, at the Porte de Hal metro station, the bloc was encircled by riot police and stopped, without any provocation on the part of the demonstrators. Some trade unionists wanted to show solidarity with the anticapitalists but police charged into the demonstration, used batons, tear gas and arrests. Two persons suffered bad headwounds.
Injuries resulting from police violence
At 4pm, Indymedia reported a German woman 20 years old with a head wound, one German man 22 years old with a head wound at the hospital St.-Pierre. The media activists from Indymedia are gassed, one of them arrested. at 5pm, 3 more wounded arrived at the hospital, two Belgians and a 19 year old German woman. at 10 pm, the wounded were back on the camp site, except one German man in his fifties, who was still in the hospital with a serious neck problem.
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