Starting in 2008, the Belgian State carried out a large investigation aiming at different struggles that were in conflict with detention centres, borders, prisons and the world of authority and exploitation – always without concessions. In its sights: the anarchist library Acrata, anarchist and anti-authoritarian publications (Hors Service, La Cavale and Tout doit partir), dozens of flyers and posters, more than a hundred actions, attacks and acts of sabotage…in other words, the fight against Power in all its different expressions.
Initially, 12 comrades were charged with “participation in a terrorist group”. After a procession of many years through juridical limbo, in the year 2020 the Appeal Court finally sentenced 9 of the accused to probationary prison sentences and suspended sentences. Another court case is pending for 7 comrades, the main charge is “incitement to commit crimes and misdemeanours”.
Back in the Dayz
In late 2008, amidst diffuse hostilities triggered by the revolt in Greece following the assassination of the young anarchist Alexis Grigoropoulos by police, the Federal Prosecutor launched an exploratory investigation aimed at anarchists in Belgium. In 2010, while the struggle against the construction of a new detention centre in Steenokkerzeel was underway, investigative magistrate Isabelle Panou was assigned to lead the investigation. From then on, the investigation was executed by the counterterrorist branch of the Federal Police. In May and in September 2013, a dozen house raids took place within this investigation, targeting different homes as well as the anarchist library Acrata in Brussels. It was on this occasion that the existence of a counterterrorist investigation first emerged. The investigation closed in 2014, culminating in the prosecution of twelve anarchists in the courts.
The common thread that runs through the investigation – which produced no less than 32 boxes filled with papers – is the hypothesis of an anarchist “terrorist group” that was supposedly active in Brussels and whose activities the accused either “promoted” or “participated in”. For example a long list is compiled of around 150 attacks (a good number of which were incendiary) against structures of domination – police stations, courts, banks, companies which profit from imprisonment, construction sites, cars of diplomats, NATO employees and Eurocrats, cell towers, etc. – in Brussels and the surrounding area between 2008 and 2013. From the files it is clear that not only the Federal Police were involved in the investigation but also the State Security and the military intelligence agency as well as various counterterrorist police departments of other European countries.
After the 6 year long investigation, the Federal Prosecutor had drawn up no less than 29 charges. Nine comrades were accused of belonging to a terrorist organization for more or less extended periods. Three of them were also accused of being the “leaders”. In addition, three other people arrested in the aftermath of an attack on the police station of Marolles (in Brussels) were accused of belonging to this terrorist group for a day. This overarching theme is supplemented by more specific charges such as participation in a non-authorised demonstration outside the detention centre 127bis in Steenokkerzeel (transformed into “attempted arson” by the prosecutor), preparation and participation in the attack on the police station in Marolles (qualified by the prosecution as a “terrorist act”), inflecting bodily harm on police officers, obstruction of the public road, causing damages in various forms, shoplifting, arson of prison guards’ cars at the Ittre prison, incitement to commit terrorist offences, etc. It should be noted that these specific allegations were each aimed at specific comrades – not everyone was charged with all the allegations.
The Courts in the Relay Race
After a hearing convened to legitimize the special investigation methods used in the context of this investigation – tailing, phone tapping, placing microphones in a house, covert house searches, attempts at infiltration, placing surveillance cameras outside of houses and in one case, inside – in October 2015, the file was forwarded to the Advisory Chamber. On the 1st of August 2017, this Chamber pronounced itself on the referral of the case to the courts and on the charges to be withheld. The Chamber cancelled the aggravating circumstance of terrorism wherever the prosecution had attributed it to a precise crime. At the same time, it reclassified the charge of participation in a “terrorist association” to participation in an “association with the aim of committing felonies and/or misdemeanours”. The Chamber also dropped a good number of charges for which it found insufficient grounds in the files.
The trial in front of the Correctional Court took place on the 29th and 30th of April 2019. Two of the accused were present in the courtroom but refused to answer questions. All 12 accused were represented by lawyers. The verdict arrived on the 28th of May, judge Keutgen ruled the inadmissibility of the prosecution against 9 of the accused since “the means of investigation implemented exceeded the framework of what was strictly necessary and authorized” and “have brought serious and irreparable harm” to “a fair trial”. Regarding the attack on the police station of Marolles; 2 people were acquitted and one was found guilty of having resisted arrest without being sentenced because the reasonable length of time had been exceeded. Some weeks later the prosecutor put forward an appeal against the decision (except against the 2 accused who were totally acquitted).
On the 8th, 9th and 16th of October 2020, the case took place before the Court of Appeal. Only one co-defendent was present and refused to speak. Prosecutor Malagnini recommended sentences ranging from 3 to 6 years effective prison, demanding double the length that he made in the first instance. On November 12th, judge Van Der Noot (who in the courtroom didn’t hide his animosity towards the accused) made his verdict public. Among others, the charges stemming from the demonstration at the detention centre of Steenokkerzeel were not confirmed, nor did the judge see a continuous organization during the whole period of the investigation (but convicted for being part of an association between the specific dates of felonies or misdemeanours), nor does he recognize leaders. The charges that he finds sufficiently proven are on the basis of “the totality of clues” (biography of the accused, seen in the surroundings or seen leaving the home at “unusual” hours, etc.) and often without any evidence that would allow the identification of the specific authors. Thus (the presumption of) being present on site becomes “being part of facilitating” the deeds. In this way, several charges concerning demonstrations and balades (unannounced collective walks during which there can be posters pasted, pamphlets distributed, slogans spray-painted, songs sung, etc.) lead to convictions for damages, blockades, armed resistance, insulting Eurocrats, etc. Also the fight with two drivers and the damages to their limousines at the entrance to the “International Subversive Bookfair” in 2011 result in convictions. These last convictions, as well as the convictions resulting from graffiti (“Eat the rich”, “Nique les proprios” and “Niq le fric”) receive the aggravating circumstance of “being motivated by hate for a person because of their fortune”.
Several charges reached the statute of limitations in the months leading up to the appeal trial, but the judge found a way to circumvent them by applying extensions of the terms allowed because of the lockdown during the spring (even though this trial had not been delayed by the covid context). “Association with the aim of committing” either “misdemeanours” or “felonies” is added to the convictions, depending on the severity of the crime. The five comrades that are sentenced solely for the first “lighter” category each get a suspended sentence over a period of 3 years (if they commit a crime during this period the next judge can also pronounce a punishment for these previous convictions). The comrades who were also convicted for the second category are sentenced to probationary prison sentences; two get 10 months (probation lasting 5 years), one gets 8 months (probation lasting 5 years) and another one gets 6 months (probation lasting 3 years). These four comrades are also stripped of certain civic rights during the relevant period of probation; employment in public services, being electable, voting. The comrade who was solely accused of “association with the aim of committing felonies and/or misdemeanours” and not of specific crimes, is acquitted. In addition, fines are issued and more than half of the costs resulting from the trial and investigation have to be paid. The state will pay a little less than half plus the bill of the phone taps because according to the judge these “provided no evidence that led to convictions” (the expenses of the telecom companies amount to 92 000 euros).
One More Replay
In the meantime, another case against 7 anarchists is moving forward in the courts. This case is the outcome of an investigation between 2012 and 2015 that was also conducted by the same counterterrorist branch of the Federal Police, but this time led by investigative magistrate De Coster. The initial charge of participation in a terrorist association has been dropped by the prosecutor. The remaining charges are “incitement to commit felonies (arson) and misdemeanours (property damage)”, both “without consequences”, for 6 of the accused and “possession of prohibited weapons” (pepperspray and a slingshot) for all 7. After the case appeared in front of the Chamber of Accusations (to approve the investigation methods) and the Advisory Chamber (which didn’t change anything about the charges), a first session was held at the Correctional Court on the 29th of May 2020. The Dutch language court decided to transfer the case to a French language court (in Brussels both exist in parallel). We are now waiting for a date for the first session in front of the French speaking Correctional Court.