Opposition

Campaigner arrested at Tour de France “for wearing an anti-Ineos T-shirt”

190704 Andy Gheorghui and Eilidh Robb

Andy Gheorghui and Eildidh Robb after their release from custody on 4 July 2019.

A senior campaigner with a European environmental organisation has described how he was arrested at the Tour de France carrying anti-fracking fliers and masks of the Ineos boss, Jim Ratcliffe.

Andy Gheorghiu, policy advisor of Food and Water Watch Europe, and the organisation’s intern, Eilidh Robb, were held in police custody for four hours.

They were handcuffed, searched and kept in separate cells. Their possessions were taken and they were refused access to a lawyer. They were later released without any charges or police action.

The arrests happened on Thursday afternoon in the Grand Plaza in Brussels, where the Tour de France riders, including Team Ineos, were being presented.

Mr Gheorghiu was wearing T-shirt, designed by campaigner Dame Vivienne Westwood, with the slogan FRACKING CLIMATE CHAOS INEOS.

The pair said they had been intending to distribute the fliers and masks to raise awareness about links between shale gas and the plastics industry and the impact on climate change.

190305 Corre and Boyd versus Ineos

Jim Ratcliffe masks worn by campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, 5 March 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Their action was part of an ongoing campaign about Ineos’s sponsorship of the former Team Sky.

Food and Water Watch had announced its intention to attend the event on Facebook following a similar protest at the Tour de Yorkshire in May 2019.

Before they could distribute the masks and leaflets, Mr Georgiou said:

“We were immediately spotted by the police. They had been monitoring the Facebook page and were expecting us.

“The police said they were arresting us and could keep us for up to 12 hours.

“They said we were not allowed to wear masks or distribute fliers.”

 

Mr Gheorghiu said the police appeared concerned they would disturb the race, only the second time it has begun in Brussels.

“They said ‘Your organisation has done things in the past we do not like’.”

ArrestRightsFoodandWaterEurope

Mr Gheorghiu said Food and Water Watch did not take part in direct actions. But one of the groups that had supported the leaflet distribution had hung a protest banner in front of the Ineos facility in Antwerp.

“The police handcuffed us in public and put us in a van and then they drove with the sirens on at a really fast pace through the city”.

They were taken to an unmarked police building next to a car park, Mr Gheorghiu said. They were again searched and their possessions were taken.

“The police said we could not call a lawyer because it was an administrative, rather than a judicial arrest”, Mr Gheorghiu said.

They were initially refused a phone call. They were later allowed one but refused access to their phones which held the numbers they needed.

They were released at 8.49pm.

Mr Gheorghiu, who said he had never been previously arrested, added:

“It is disturbing that the police are defending the people who are causing the climate crisis and punishing the people who say we need to change.

“My freedom was taken away simply because I wore a t-shirt to protest Ineos’ corporate sponsorship, and to highlight the company’s destructive impact on the climate.”

“I fear from this experience and what we experience on a daily basis. There is a tendency to ignore our arguments. I think we are moving towards the end of debate because the other side is not willing to listen.

Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe executive director, Wenonah Hauter, said in a statement today:

“This arrest is not only a violation of our colleagues’ basic civil rights, but it is also a brazen display of state power to protect the reputation of a corporation and its owner, billionaire Jim Ratcliffe. It is he and his company that poses the threat to our climate and Europe’s safety and security, not peaceful protesters.

“This is part of a troubling trend in Europe, U.S. and beyond where peaceful environmental protests are increasingly being criminalized. Just last month, a UN Special Rapporteur on human rights warned that our basic liberties and rights are imperilled by increasing climate chaos. Every time a climate activist is arrested under sham pretences, our rights erode a little further.

“We call for an immediate investigation into this arrest and the human rights violations it represents. We can’t let our institutions flout the rule of law and our democratic rights to protect billionaires and fossil fuel companies—or any company—from public scrutiny and peaceful protest.”

DrillOrDrop is seeking a comment from Brussels police.

  • Mr Gheorghiu said Food and Water Watch had been allowed to protest tomorrow (Sunday 7 July 2019) in Brussels, during stage two of the Tour de France. But he said campaigners would be accompanied by police.

41 replies »

  1. Yes, a bit harsh KatT when you can’t look like Sir Jim, but you can look like Charles Manson.

    I always found the Belgians a little mixed up-but, they do like their cycling.

    • Here is my letter to the Belgian ambassador in London
      Sir
      I was appalled to read of the arrests of Mr Georgioui and Ms Robb yesterday, in Brussels, at the start of The Tour De France. Their only ‘crime’, for want of a better term, was to be wearing anti-fracking tee shirts and to have leaflets about INEOS, a major climate polluter and their owner Mr Ratcliffe, a very wealthy British tax exile. I understand they were held for over 4 hours in a building that was not identified as a police station. They were denied access to a lawyer and could not telephone anyone and yet at the end of their forced imprisonment no charges were brought. I find it difficult to believe that a Western European country, with a well-established liberal tradition, should treat people in this manner. Why does your country consider it reasonable to use the term ‘administrative arrest’ to circumvent human rights?
      Because of my interest in WW1 I have visited Belgium on many occasions and considered it to be a country where people are treated with respect and dignity. Now that you have acted more like a Middle Eastern autocracy I will need to reconsider my perceptions. Should Belgian people, when visiting London, be treated in a similarly disgraceful way I would hang my head in shame.
      Yours sincerely
      Hugh Sloan

  2. Well Hugh, maybe a factually correct letter and using decent English would get more attention?

    Dear Sir and YOURS FAITHFULLY not sincerely. So keen to communicate without research-not a good way to grab attention.

    • In a country that separates children from their parents and keeps them in cages, without even access to soap or a toothbrush, stifling peaceful protest is the next step on a very slippery slope. It is certainly not something to be encouraged or applauded by any decent person.

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