This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 18 May 2015 contains two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.
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– Indian state arrests K. Murali (Ajith)
– 10 years later French courts outrageously exonerate police in the deaths of two teenagers
Indian state arrests K. Murali (Ajith)
18 May 2015. A World to Win News Service. The Indian state has arrested intellectual and writer K. Murali, also known as Ajith. According to newspaper reports, he was seized by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad on 8 May along with his assistant C.P. Ismael at a hospital near Pune in southern India. Although formal charges have not yet been filed, the authorities have initially accused him of using false identification and membership in an illegal organization under the notorious Unlawful Activities Prevention Act that bans a broad range of political activities.
Indian media refer to Murali as a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). When taken to court on 9 May, the Indian Express said that he declared to the media, “I am a member of the CPI(M). I shouldn’t have been arrested like this. My arrest is illegal.”
After being held for a week, the two men were brought before a judge a second time on 16 May for a hearing on whether or not they should be released. Media people were not allowed in the courtroom, and the judge himself was not allowed to read the police report. According to the Express, “When the judge asked Ajith if he had any complaints against the police, the accused replied that despite the eight days of his arrest the ATS had not informed him about the charges levelled against him.” Nevertheless, the judge remanded the two to police custody for another week.
Murali, 62, recently undergone heart surgery and had gone for further medical care when he was arrested. A chilling picture shows him in handcuffs with a hood entirely covering his head. Indian newspapers say the government will keep him and Ismael in isolation at an unknown location while a special investigation team assists their interrogation. This news, along with the known facts about the mistreatment of other suspected CPI(M) members and leaders, and repeated cases of torture and even murder in custody, has led to widespread concern for Murali’s health and safety. In the first few days after the announcement of his arrest, dozens of progressive-minded individuals in India and other countries condemned his arrest.
One such statement signed by 28 activists and intellectuals demanded that the “ATS should disclose his health condition forthwith and provide him with the necessary medical help. We also demand that Ajith and his friend should be enabled to access a legal counsel of their choice as entitled by the constitution.”
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10 years later French courts exonerate police in the deaths of two teenagers
19 May 2015. A World to Win News Service. When two teenagers fleeing from police were electrocuted in an electrical power substation in 2005, youth in the poor working class and heavily immigrant-origin urban suburbs (banlieues) surrounding Paris and other French cities exploded. Now, after nearly a decade of legal manoeuvres, on 18 May a court definitively aquitted two police officers accused of failing to act to prevent their deaths, despite uncontested evidence that the police knew they were in mortal danger and could have saved them.
Three youth were returning home after a holiday afternoon football match near a housing estate in the town of Clichy-sous-Bois near Paris when they were approached by a police van. An investigation later brought out that they had committed no crime, but the police chased them anyway. They tried to escape by ducking into an electrical transformer shed. Two of them, Bouna Traoré, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, were killed by a charge of tens of thousands of bolts. Their friend, 17-year old Muhittin Altun, was severely burned.
For many people the deaths of Bouna and Zyed were two outrageous deaths too many and a concentration of the oppression and misery they face every day. A furious outpouring of mainly banlieue youth followed the electrocutions. The police descended on the suburbs night after night, with arrests, tear gas and beatings. Still, the youths in these areas continued to resist. The state issued the first nationwide state of emergency since the end of the Algerian war in 1962. Demonstrations were banned, and with only a few exceptions political organisations and public figures remained passive.
The state waited two years before announcing that it would investigate the police most directly responsible for the deaths of Bouna and Zyed. People were told the familiar refrain, to put their faith in the judicial system. While no one was ever charged with murder or manslaughter, two officers were finally charged with “failure to aid a person in danger”.
The investigation revealed the police had reason to know that the three teenagers were near the EDF power substation and could have gone inside. In a recorded conversation with his dispatcher over the radio, one of the officers who had chased them said, “If they’ve gone into the EDF site, I don’t give them much chance.” (Guardian, 18 May 2015) Yet he failed to try to find and warn them, or do anything to help them. The dispatcher failed to call the electricity company to have the current shut off. They did not even call the emergency medical services. Bouana and Zyed are said to have died a half an hour after the police left the area.
For ten years the justice system stalled or found a way to justify the cops. When they were finally brought to trial, the prosecutor, who asked for the charges against them to be dropped, argued that if the police had known of the danger, they would surely have acted to protect the youth. The panel of judges accepted this logic, despite the recorded evidence of the conversation between the two implicated police, and ruled that the accused had no reason to be “certain of the imminent danger” facing the youth. (Le Monde, 18 May 2015) As legal observers pointed out, this decision was not based on facts or the law but explicitly political. Criminal charges and the civil suit brought by the families of the victims were dropped. No further appeal is possible.
This verdict has emboldened reactionaries in France to redouble their attacks on the youth from the banlieues. Zyed and Bouana are being called “thugs” and held responsible for cars burned after their death. The victims’ families, still grieving their loss ten years later, have been told that they are responsible for not raising their children with sufficient respect for the police and the laws of the republic. The verdict is being used to hammer the message that the rebellion in 2005 was unjustified.
Instead, the police are being portrayed as victims because they had to stand trial on minor charges. While the openly racist National Front (FN) has hailed the court decision, saying that “Justice has finally been done in France,” the Justice Minister of the governing Socialist Party (PS) Christiane Taubira, a black woman who had been targeted by outrageous racist insults, took only a slightly more nuanced stand, calling on everyone to “respect the decisions of the justice system.” Meanwhile, many people are saying that the verdict showed the fundamental injustice of the “justice system” and France itself.
After the verdict was read, a large and angry rally was held outside the courthouse in the department where Clichy is located, and there were skirmishes with the police. The anguish and anger at the French court system expressed by the youths’ families and friends are being shared by thousands of people on social media, making “ZyedEtBouana” the most followed Twitter hashtag in France.
Several people denounced what they called the “violence” of the judges’ decision. One wrote that with its verdict the “justice system” acted just like the police and, in a way, sentenced Zyed and Bouana to death after the fact, not because of anything they did but because of who they were, their immigrant backgrounds and banlieue postal code that amounts to a life sentence for millions of youth. Others tweeted on the theme that for the police, the “imminent danger” is the banlieue youth themselves, and an electrical transformer is as good as any other weapon to kill them.
While the official “far left” opposition (the Left Front led by Jean-Luc Melenchon who took the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo staff by Islamic fundamentalists last January as an occasion to literally shake hands with the militarized police usually used against demonstrators) is trying to rival the far right in defending the police in the face of the outrage following the verdict (see his Twitter statement), many youth, from immigrant backgrounds and of all nationalities, and others, are calling the harassment, abuses and killings carried out against banlieue youth a dividing line. At the same time, although religion played very little role in the 2005 upheaval, reactionaries across much of the political spectrum are trying to connect this rage against the police with Islamic fundamentalism, which only feeds that current.
The conditions in France’s suburbs that fuelled the 2005 rebellion after Zyed and Bouana were electrocuted, and the authorities’ continuing difficulties in sweeping their deaths under the rug, remain a source of explosive potential.
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