Human Lives Human Rights: A French court on Thursday handed a riot police officer an 18-month suspended jail term for assaulting Tom Ciotkowski, a British activist who was supporting asylum seekers in Calais in 2018.
The court in the coastal town of Boulogne-sur-Mer also barred Sergeant Laurent M. from serving for two years over the events of July 31, 2018.
What actually happened?
The officer, identified only as Laurent M, knocked Tom Ciotkowski to the ground during a scuffle between British activists and the CRS riot force.
The police claimed Ciotkowski had “shoved (Laurent M.) in the chest” and called him a “bitch bastard”, prompting the officer to push back in self-defence and causing both men to fall over a security barrier.
Ciotkowski was arrested and charged over the incident but was cleared of any wrongdoing at his trial in 2019 on the basis of a video showing the attack on him to be unprovoked.
The footage showed him alone falling to the ground, close to the path of an oncoming lorry.
A series of allegations of police brutality towards activists and minorities has recently come to light and rights groups say the verdict sent a “clear signal” that abuses would not be tolerated.
Northern port of Calais is a key crossing point for migrants trying to reach Britain, with informal camps regularly sprouting up to house the steady influx of people hoping to stow away on a truck crossing the Channel to England.
Rights groups say the decision by French court is important in a case that has become emblematic of the attacks by police on asylum seekers and the human rights defenders who support them.
This prosecution which was only successful due to video evidence and determination of a small group of campaigners, will hopefully send a clear signal that the impunity for police violence will no longer be tolerated.
Meanwhile, Tom Ciotkowski was available for the comment, who said: “It has been a long and stressful three years, but I am pleased to see the police being held to account for their actions. If police abuses are left unchecked and unpunished the whole system rots from within. It is vital that such instances are able to be recorded and brought to light.”
“I dread to think what might have happened if myself and others were not able to film the incident. I could very well be the one being convicted today. I hope this decision contributes to a rethink of the hostile environment policy towards asylum seekers in Calais and elsewhere and that a new, compassionate approach is taken to the people struggling there and those trying to help them.”