France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

December 27, 2008

Sabotage a la liberté: … the rest of the story

What’s in a headline? Certainly not the presumption of innocence, if one’s to judge by this one in last night’s editions of Le Monde: “Sabotage à la SNCF: Julien Coupat maintenu en détention.” The facts: After a year of misfunctions along the lines of the national train system, rather than look at ineptitude of the franchise itself, the French interior minister announced November 15 the arrestation of a group of nine alleged anarcho-lefto-terrorists from the Correze region after the latest incident. By last week all but two had been released, the supposed leader, Julien Coupat, and his companion. Then a judge ordered Coupat released, the parquet or state appealed, and yesterday the court of appeals acceded; Julien Coupat won’t see the light of day until at least 2009. “It’s clear,” Coupat’s father Gerard told the Agence France Presse as quoted by Le Monde, “they want to break my son and his companion Yidune, there’s a desire to humiliate them…. They want to use these two young people to intimidate all young people in dissuading them from demonstrating, at the risk of the same thing happening to them.” Sound familiar? It should.

We know that Coupat’s arrest followed two months of state surveillance of his allegedly anarchist-oriented group, but you had to read to the end of the latest story in Sud-Ouest (neither Le Monde nor the radio news has mentioned it) that it was the New York police who tipped the French off to Coupat’s alleged subversive activities, which consisted of attending an anarchist meeting in the States, and which thus decided the French to tail him for two months. If you’ve been following the evolution of U.S. police tactics in dealing with demonstrations over the past decade, you know that they include preventive detention, often in miserable conditions, of those *who would simply demonstrate* (and often bystanders who were in the ‘wrong place’ at the wrong time) before they can even do so, particularly at presidential conventions — tactics often later condemned by the courts, particularly those involving the 2004 Republican presidential convention in New York. You’d also know that they sometimes include infiltrating *even peaceful activist groups* — in defiance of the U.S. Constitutions protections of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. That the French justice system would take a cue from an American system that has been so roundly denounced over the past few years is regrettable.

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