France: Trumped up charges against human rights defender must be dropped


Ahead of the trial of Tom Ciotkowski, a British human rights defender who documented police abuse against migrants and refugees and volunteers who were helping them in Calais, Amnesty International has called for all charges to be dropped and for European governments to stop treating solidarity as a crime.

Tom Ciotkowski is facing up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 7,500 Euros on trumped up charges. In July 2018, he was observing French riot police preventing volunteers from distributing food to migrants and refugees in Calais. He was charged with contempt and assault after he challenged the violent actions of a policeman against another volunteer.

Tom Ciotkowski is a compassionate young volunteer who was taking action to support migrants and refugees when he was arrested
Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Migration Maria Serrano.

“Tom Ciotkowski is a compassionate young volunteer who was taking action to support migrants and refugees when he was arrested. He has committed no crime and is being unjustly targeted for documenting the abusive behaviour of the police in Calais,” said Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Migration Maria Serrano.

“Tom’s case is sadly emblematic of the harassment, intimidation and attacks that human rights defenders supporting migrants and refugees face at the hands of police in Calais. His case also reflects a wider European trend of criminalizing acts of solidarity, as a way of discouraging others from standing up for human rights.

We need courageous, compassionate people like Tom more than ever

“Efforts by individuals and NGOs to help people in need should be lauded, defended and celebrated rather than criminalized. The outrageous charges against Tom Ciotkowski must be dropped – we need courageous, compassionate people like him more than ever.”

The trial will start at 13.30 CEST on 15 May, at the Tribunal de Boulogne-sur-Mer.

BACKGROUND

At the end of July 2018, Tom Ciotkowski was observing French riot police ID-checking volunteers who were trying to distribute food to migrants and refugees. He recorded on his mobile phone an official pushing and kicking a volunteer.

When Tom complained about the behaviour of the police, an officer approached him and another female volunteer, who he hit with a baton. When Tom asked the officer for his identification number and told the policeman not to hit women, he was pushed hard by an officer and fell backwards over a metal barrier separating the pavement from the road. As Tom fell backwards, a passing lorry narrowly missed him.

He was then arrested, put in custody for 36 hours and charged with contempt and assault (“outrage et violence”).

In May 2019, Tom filed a complaint against the police officer who pushed him and against other officers who provided reports stating false facts against Tom to support his arrest and prosecution.