France: We accuse! A statement against the criminalisation of protest in France

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We accuse! A statement against the criminalisation of protest in France
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Originally published by Mediapart as 'Nous accusons!' on 4 May 2019.

Faced with the government's authoritarian drift, an extensive group of academics and members of civil society are protesting against the "criminalisation" of anyone opposing "its fatal laws and policies" and against "state violence" meted out through the use of weapons of war. They call on all citizens "to join the social movement".

Since November 17, 2018, several hundred thousand citizens have been expressing their concern about a power that is deaf to their demands. They find the strength and courage to speak up and say loud and clear that they have had enough and will no longer suffer the effects of the harmful policies that have been looting their work and common goods with impunity for several decades.

The voices of the yellow vests exposed the lies and pseudo "scientific" justifications given by the authorities and its pack of courtiers to cover the extent and importance of the predation. Their uprising showed the true meaning of a policy that knowingly organised the transfer of the hard-earned assets of 95% of the population to the 5% of the wealthiest strata. Their strength was to make people aware of the duplicity of a power that dared to congratulate itself for having multiplied by four the enormous wealth held by a tiny minority. With the vast majority of French people, we have recognised ourselves in the awareness of yellow vests. Each of us has seen that, in all sectors of society, we are confronted with the effects of the same policies that tend to constantly aggravate social inequalities.

From the outset, the demands and expectations for change that emerged from this popular uprising were clearly developed. They immediately came up against a power that kept ignoring their content in order to weaken their destabilising impact. It was first of all the deafening silence of a president and his court, walled up in their palace. Then there was the attempt to fool the crowd with false promises and small alms granted by continuing to charge the less well-off and public services. It was also the setting up of a simulacrum of consultation from which all possibilities of interaction and debate had been very skilfully removed. Above all, it was a clear and thoughtful decision to prevent by all means the public expression of requests and claims.

Every effort has been made to silence the demonstrators. From the very first acts, the government chose violence by asking the police to clear motorway tolls, roundabouts, block access to the convergence points of the demonstrations and, above all, to intervene "firmly". We have all seen the translation of these orders on the ground: we have seen with our own eyes the filtering and arbitrary arrests at the entrances to cities, preventing demonstrations from taking place and speech from being heard. We saw the roundabout huts destroyed and still courageously rebuilt. The consciously chosen police intervention techniques (kettling, firing tear gas at the beginning of demonstrations, firing flash-balls without warning) themselves provoked the rare acts of violence by deliberately seeking confrontation with the demonstrators.

Week after week, this murderous and freedom-crushing technique was applied with increasing intensity. Protected by the government and covered by the omerta of much of the media, police troops exhausted by work let themselves carry out the worst abuses. Hundreds of men and women peacefully demonstrating have been attacked for no reason and very often with senseless persistence. Since December, the number of seriously injured has been steadily increasing: there are hundreds of people who have suffered serious trauma. No words were spoken by the President of the Republic or his government towards the victims, and in particular Zineb Redouane, killed after being hit while she was closing her window. Nothing seems to be able to stop this dramatic escalation any longer and we are ashamed to see the self-congratulations of the government, which is supposed to contain a "hateful crowd", being staged.

The choice of violent repression against all those who dare to speak out against these acts is certainly not new, it has been put into practice in the working class neighbourhoods and against vulnerable groups such as migrants and Roma or against social movements, but since November 2018 a threshold has been crossed. This strategy of violent repression culminated in the demonstration on 1 May 2019: not only was the full range of the State's repressive arsenal deployed, but the government was once again guilty of proven lies by shouting at the scandal of an alleged "attack" on the Pitié Salpêtrière hospital by demonstrators who had come to seek refuge. This state lie is the one lie too many. It reveals the state of feverishness and panic of a power at bay.

This state violence must stop!

We accuse the Ministry of the Interior of knowingly provoking violent reactions in our cities, at roundabouts and public discussion points, in order to criminalise anyone who opposes its fatal laws and policies.

We accuse the government of using weapons of war against civilians that have been banned in all Western countries, ignoring repeated warnings from several international organisations.

We accuse the judiciary hierarchy of having agreed to conceal this harmful policy by blindly and servilely applying the orders given by the executive branch.

We accuse the General Inspectorate of the National Police of having carried out false investigations which, to our knowledge, have not led to the arrest of any member of the "law enforcement" forces.

We accuse those in the press and television media who have agreed to transform themselves into spokespersons for the Ministry of the Interior and Prefecture without any control over their sources.

We call on all citizens to join the social movement to denounce the authoritarian drift of the government and we demand the resignation of M. Castaner and the opening of an independent commission of inquiry to shed light on the wrongs of those truly responsible so that they may be brought to justice.

Originally published by Mediapart as 'Nous accusons!' on 4 May 2019.

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