This report was written for Fitwatch by a no borders activist.
This report is a basic document gathered from direct witnesses, anecdotal evidence, footage, legal documents and statements after the incidents. It is no way entirely comprehensive or representative of everything that happened at the Camp and during the week. Anonymity is ensured. The report has been organised under these main headings which should cover all the points and incidents.
1) Pre-emptive Arrests
2) Undercover Policing+Intelligence
3) a) Brutality (demonstrations)
b) Brutality (detention)
4) Sexual Violence
The Brussels No Border Camp (NBX) was organised as a week of actions, workshops, discussions and a space to come together against the (anti) migration policy of the European Union. It was a platform for groups and individuals to organise and share information as well as participate in actions against various targets, ranging from private companies to EU buildings.
It seemed that the Police in Belgium had learnt a lot about preventing protests and disorder from the Danish Police. Those of us who had been in Copenhagen felt the despairing feeling of a waste of time in Police detention. The policy of mass arrests began on the Wednesday the 29th. This was the day of the anti-austerity demonstrations in Europe. Tens of thousands of Trade Unionists from all over Europe including France, Spain and Poland descended on Brussels. The No Borders were invited to join in solidarity and people decided to go as an Anti-Capitalist Black Bloc. But the cops had other ideas and arrested around 300 people before they arrived at the demonstration. Anyone who looked like a NB activist was spotted and detained. The law of Administrative arrest in Belgium is that it is legal to detain people for 12 hours without them having committed any crime, only that they might in the future. This continued on the 1st with the evening ‘illegal’ demonstration called by a Brussels Anarchist group against the Police and Authority. Around 100 people were rounded up again and arrested, with the Police having banned all groups of over 5 people around the train station. Plastic handcuffs and the strange V-sitting position made infamous in Copenhagen were used.
“we were simply getting onto a bus when an undercover police car drove in front of the bus and stopped it. They got onto the bus and took us out, they refused to identify themselves and when one activist demanded to see his ID the officer pointed a can of CS into his face and screamed that that was his ID. They did not tell us why we were under arrest but instead cuffed us and dragged us away”
The policy extended not only to demonstrations but also to any activists walking around in the city at any time of day for any reason. The author witnessed several groups of people who were walking around the shopping area being chased, thrown to the floor and arrested. The Belgian Police used this ability of pre-emptive arrests to break people and destroy demonstrations, to great affect. Many people were too exhausted by the ordeals that they didn’t go on subsequent demonstrations.
Undercover and Intelligence
The use of undercover police was prolific during the camp. Every demonstration contained significant numbers of undercovers. They used video cameras to gather intelligence on specific activists or incidents. They were used to break up demonstrations and would identify during riots with orange armbands, but they would also simply attack people and were incredibly violent. They were noticed all around the city for the whole week and some were noticed in the camp itself, although they were quickly driven out. On the demonstration on the 29th they were used to splinter, attack and disperse the anti-capitalist bloc. They used batons and CS spray to arrest 50 activists, working with the highly visible riot cops. It was highly demoralising to people that the person standing next to them could just attack them when they got the order.
The intelligence gathering during the week was covert and effective. Many undercovers would roam the streets around the camp and direct visible police to any NB street presence. They were able to gain information on peoples whereabouts and their description without overt surveillance:
One group of German activists decided to attend the demonstration on the 29th. They dressed in civilian clothes and joined a 30 strong group of students who were walking in the direction of the demonstration. Within five minutes the police arrived and handpicked the five German activists out the group of 35 people.
The author witnessed several rubbish collectors giving information to the undercover police as to the whereabouts of NB activists. Other activists witnessed similar levels of civilian collaboration.
Intelligence gathering on demonstrations was also used. People would only be let out of kettles once they had been photographed. Activists had photos used against them in detention as proof of crimes. Forcible photographing was also used in detention with many people being beaten and seriously injured until they were photographed.
The suspicion of cross-border collaboration was confirmed when a prominent French activist working with Calais Migrant Solidarity (a sister group to No Borders providing practical solidarity along the Northern French Coast) was taken from his cell and interviewed by the head of Northern France’s undercover police. The activist in question refused to answer his questions and was put back in his cell.
The attitude of the Police throughout the week gave the impression that they had been given free reign to be violent, abusive and cruel without any recourse. Many people have testified to the brutality of the week.
The first demonstration of the week began against a close detention centre and as a commemoration for Semira Adamu who was killed in 1998 during her deportation. The detention centre was surrounded by specially placed barbed wire, water cannons, riot cops, horses and dogs. The demonstration concluded with incredible violence. People were surrounded and people taken out and beaten. One journalist had his ear drum ruptured from excessive beating. A cop was also kicked by a horse which led to the police retaliating by beating several activists to the ground and kicking one girl in the head until she lost consciousness.
Those who managed to avoid pre-emptive arrest (see above) and arrived at the demonstration were confronted by highly edgy and violent police. They used undercover police and riot police to disperse and arrest demonstrators. The cops injured many people and several went to hospital with severe head injuries. They also used CS spray prolifically. People who managed to escape were later attacked in a park by undercover police who also beat them badly. The demonstration was attacked without provocation and the main objective seemed to be simply to attack No Borders activists:
“any association with the No Borders Camp and any desire to help those who live their everyday lives in the insecurity of having no papers and nowhere safe to turn, was a justification for severe violence. The police laid their values on the table for me, clear as day. For them the safety, physical and mental well being and the democratic rights of the human beings whose care they were responsible for was irrelevant”
Whilst the Police certainly were violent on the streets, they saved their most brutal behaviour for the arrests and detention. An unbelievable amount of violence against No Borders activists went on inside the Police stations.
For fourteen unforgettable hours I was held in custody and subjected to their violence, their authority, their every whim. I was beaten, spat upon, repeatedly called a ‘dirty whore’ and chained to a radiator until 4am right outside the open door to the office of the chief of police, who observed it all and reacted only with silence. The police chief and I also witnessed the violent beating of another arrestee, also chained to a radiator, upon whom the police unleashed a fit of rage like none I’d ever seen – the young man fell to the ground screaming the only French word he knew, ‘non, non, non’. As I watched this, chained myself right next to the police chief, I wondered what country I was in, how such a thing could happen at all in this world, and where oh where had democracy and justice gone?
Those brought into the Police stations were held for many hours without charge, had property stolen, beaten, denied water and food and toilets for 12 hours, had false allegations made against them and sexually abused.
October 02, 2010 17:55 – According to a testimony of an eyewitness, six people that were arrested yesterday after 10pm near the attacked police station Place du Jeu de Balle were heavily mistreated inside. The beatings, kickings, spittings, insultings took several hours until they were brought to Palace de Justice. At least one of the arrested was visibly injured and constantly asking for a doctor. Dozens of police were present, the harassments took place in front of the office of the head of the police station. A detailed report will follow in the next days.
The Police seemed to use the opportunity of detention to retaliate for ‘losses’ on the streets, they beat people on the basis of nationality. The brutality was also not the actions of a few unhinged officers but seemed to come from the highest command. The testimony of being chained to a radiator outside the Chief of Police’s office seems to confirm that all officers were complicit, that there was a culture and attitude of acceptance towards brutality of detainees.
“The violence I experienced and witnessed was not the random act of a single police officer that had gotten out of hand. It was apparent from the very first beating that for these police officers, in this police station, this unimaginable violence was completely normal behaviour. They did not feel the need to hide me in a cell in order to beat me; they did not shelter their violence from the eyes of their superiors or their colleagues; their colleagues did not even look up from their paper work. Why would they? They obviously saw this everyday.”
People also lost many possessions to the Police. Cameras, passports, money, USB sticks, Dictaphones and personal property were stolen and some given back later but many were never recovered:
“When I was finally released by a judge fourteen hours later, I received a plastic bag with my belongings in it. But many items were missing. Most importantly, my Identity Card, but also my USB stick, the camera I had with me and twenty-five euros cash. When I returned to the police station to reclaim my items – together with friends because I literally feared for my life – they laughed at me and said they were keeping my money as ‘financial compensation’ and taking the camera and the USB stick for investigation. I asked for a written record that these items were being confiscated and received none. I requested my ID card back and they just laughed. When I returned two days later for my ID card, they told me they had lost it somewhere in a ‘combi’”
Those arrested on the street also faced a horrific experience. Many were forced to sit for hours, sometimes in the rain. Detainees on the street were forced to kneel and grovel in front of undercover officers, many were spat at, shouted at, verbally abused, beaten, pepper-sprayed and physically assaulted. Inside the vans detainees were also beaten, had their heads smashed into the walls or sexually assaulted.
Whilst many aspects of the Polices behaviour was abhorrent and outrageous it is the aspect of sexual violence that has worried and terrified many activists the most. The idea of physical harm is something that many activists have experienced and are prepared for, but sexual abuse at the hands of a Police officer is something that breaks many people. The reports suggest that all sexual violence was aimed almost exclusively at female activists, although there were male activists who were strip searched.
‘Operation Trouser’ is one part of this experience. Many female activists were forced to strip down to their underwear in order to humiliate them in front of male officers during interrogations. Many female activists were injured when they refused to do so but were forcibly stripped anyway. Eye-witnesses report that this technique was referred to as ‘Operation Trouser’.
“Later, two women from camp were picked up by police while walking in the direction of the Gesu squat. While in custody they were forced to strip in front of male officers. One woman refused and had clothes physically ripped off her. They were later released, again without charge, in a highly distressed state”
The most terrifying and worrying technique however is that the Police would pick female activists off the street and threaten to rape them inside their vans. One friend was picked up outside a squat and driven around the streets. The Police did not believe that she could speak French, but she was able to. She overheard them discussing whether or not to rape her, they decided not to and was thrown out of the van.
“Later, a man and woman out walking near camp were stopped by police. The woman was told she was going to be raped before being bundled into a van by five policemen and her hood pulled down over her head. She was released soon after on the other side of camp, highly distressed”
The gender violence also extended to the girls not having access to toilets whilst in detention. Female activists were forced to urinate into bottles or across the floor. The cells were not equipped with toilets for females and the Police refused to take them from their cells.
As distressing and disturbing the violence was during the week, one thing that stood out from other summits, such as Copenhagen is that people did not let it stop them carrying out autonomous actions, retaliations against the police, resistance in the cells and intelligence gathering against the cops.
There are too many autonomous actions to list here, people took it upon themselves amidst the repression of the week to go out in small groups and disrupt, smash and attack all manner of targets. Here is an example of some:
Despite the repression, several other actions took place: anti-Frontex banners and flyering at the airport, Frontex windows and doors smashed and smoke bombs were let off, locks glued at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). A building of Sodexho – the French hotel and catering company with a 50% share in Corrections Corporation of Australia and UK Detention Services, had windows smashed and oil was spilled over another Sodexho building. Steria, the company that designed the Eurodac fingerprinting database – leading to thousands of migrants a year being deported – had its windows smashed and “Smash Eurodac” spray-painted across it. The Italian Embassy had excrement thrown over it.
Several autonomous actions took place, including BP’s headquarters which was blockaded, plus The Royal Palace Hall, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Greek Embassy spray-painted with slogans like “You have blood on your hands – No Borders”.
This was the tone of the week. People refusing to be silenced by the repression and not losing the message of the camp to the simple ‘cops-vs-protesters’ that often mars many action camps.
Retaliations against the police was also prolific. Many people were enraged at their friends being so abused and took direct action against the cops.
In retaliation for the mass arrests and sexual violence, 30 people attacked a police station, breaking windows and doors, letting off smoke bombs and starting a fire. Police vans were also attacked with Molotovs. Six unrelated people caught up in the resulting turmoil were arrested.
Resistance in the cells continued all throughout the week. People cut their handcuffs, and helped other do the same. Cells were graffitied, lights were smashed, toilets ripped off the walls, plaster and bricks were ripped from the walls, doors were damaged until they would not lock, water and food were thrown at the cops. People did not remain calm in the face of Police repression and screamed and chanted for many hours. The police brought dogs into the station to control activists but people were still not deterred. Resistance to the fingerprinting was also done. Skillshares on how to remove fingerprints with different materials led to people damaging their fingerprints to the extent that they were unable to have them taken. The machines could not recognise damaged fingers.
People also resisted the intrusive behaviour of the undercover police. Photos and names of undercovers were circulated throughout the camp so that everyone could recognise them if they entered the camp or attended a demonstration. People also spent time in demonstrations searching for undercovers and ousting them, people held cardboard banners saying ‘civil police here’ if they found some. Many were chased out of the big demonstration on the 2nd to the chants and jeers of demonstrators.
Overall it felt like despite the police repression people were able to fully participate in the camp, attend meetings and workshops, participate in and organise autonomous actions without lasting legal repercussions, attend demonstrations and be part of a growing movement. The reactions of activists was more encouraging than in Copenhagen, people refused to the best of their abilities and moved away from the mass action to small affinity group actions. It seems that many people have had that feeling after the camp, that mass bloc actions are dead with the rise of mass police pre-emptive arrests. It felt like a success and full credit to the organisers of the camp and the No Borders as a whole which feels like an exciting and growing movement to be a part of.
Love and solidarity to all, especially to those who suffered at the hands of the police during the week.
No Borders Anti-National
Hundreds of articles, photos, videos and communiqués can be found here:
Pictures of broken windows and arrests here: http://linksunten.indymedia.org/de/node/26054