Experiences of repression
An interim assessment after Ende Gelände 2015 in the Rhineland
Comment: This report was published 27/07/2017, i.e. before Ende Gelände in August 2017.
The Ende Gelände action in August 2015 mobilised more than 1000 people who paralysed the open-cast mine in Garzweiler for a day. It was the first action of this kind and in this dimension which was targeted directly against the German lignite industry. Many things were inspired by experiences of other struggles; we tried them and developed them further. They now serve as an aid for the planning of further actions. While many of the political, logistical and tactical aspects could be analysed directly after the action, the legal consequences are being to take shape only now, nearly two years after the action. In this report we would like to present a first summary and furthermore try to draw some conclusions for the future.
The behaviour of public authorities
Already during the action in and around Garzweiler the public authorities in collusion with private security services acted in such a brutal fashion that the total operation was torn apart by the media. One security official even declared in an anonymous interview that he was shocked by the brutality of his own people. As was to be expected, this was only dealt with internally within the police without any public consequences. In the state parliament the political evaluation was first postponed and then put at the end of the agenda so that the interior minister did not have to make a public statement.
Consquences for activists
Seemingly randomly sent penalty orders
What happendes with the activists? The first thing to notice is that only those people had to reckon with long-term legal hassle who gave their personal details when the police tried to identify them. The repressive machine of the state took time to start rolling. After 9 months the first penalty orders were dispatched.
Even today it is not clear what the criteria were for sending these orders. Not all activists identified by the police received letters. Many of those who gave their personal details had to live in fear for a while but were never charged.
The accusation: Trespass or breach of the peace
Those activists who received a penalty order were charged with trespass or breach of the peace. A penalty order is normally assumed as proven by the public prosecutor; the penalty demanded is normally a mid-range three-digit sum.
There are different ways dealing with this. Fundamentally who can either pay or appeal against the decision? If you pay, the penalty is accepted and become final. The matter is closed. Depending on your financial situation this is the easiest and most comfortable way. Doing this you accept that your activism represented a criminal offence. You make it easy for the repressive agents of the state because the next time this can be used against you.
Consequences of an objection
Of all those people which objected to a penalty order not a single person has been convicted so far. The first trials resulted often in cases being stopped in return for certain conditions being met. Later it became more and more apparent that the public prosecutor could not really contradict our argument that the mine in Garzweiler was never totally fenced in according to the law. Therefore recently some where acquitted and others had their cases stopped without conditions. That others had to pay several hundred Euros a few months ago shows that the prosecutors accepted the accusations of the police without any examination. More importantly, it also demonstrates that it is well worth it to resist. Many people have paid huge fines which according to our present knowledge were not at all justified. It is easy to come to this conclusion today but we recognise that it is challenging when you receive a penalty order.
Time is a decisive factor. We learned from each trial. Excellent lawyers as well as lay people were quickly able to use new findings in further trials even though the courts and public prosecutors often did not recognise lay people and postponed trial sessions. Our solidarity stood mostly firm against the attempts to wear ous down. The local support was also remarkable. We often had dozens of supporters in the court room which generated a wonderful atmosphere of solidarity which comforted the defense and the accused.
Networks instead of going it alone
Whatever activists decide it is also enormously helpful if one does not have to take these decisions on one’s own. Our solidarity and support were available for all accused! The objective is not to push the concerned activists into a certain direction but to enable an educated decision based on our knowledge and other factors For this reason we want to encourage you to network whenever you are accused for political reasons. Networks and solidarity amongst the accused can open up new avenues and new rooms for manouvre as well as lighten the exposure to repression.
Ultimately the incompetence of the police and the public prosecutors and our own pictorial evidence led to our recent success. Whether this positive mixture will manifest itself again is not evident. RWE and the public authroities also learn something new. It is conceivable that the wave of acquittals will lead to a complete fencing in of the infrastructure. We are waiting in eager anticipation.