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.
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’.”
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.