Nuclear dump opponent jailed in France

The Owls of Bure on the march, June, 2018

In rural northeast France, the 20-year resistance to a planned underground nuclear waste dump still flourishes, despite ongoing police and judicial intimidation. Government largess and a cultivated aura of technical and scientific respectability have coopted local governments, but the opposition has long tilled deep grassroots support.

Authorities have lately sought with no success to divide the opposition by targeting individuals accused of damaging the property of ANDRA, the nuclear waste authority. More were arrested and jailed this summer.

Two summers ago, ANDRA erected unpermitted concrete walls in the communal Lejuc woods, blocking access to the site where they plan to drill ventilation tunnels. The walls were pushed over in an act of collective public sabotage by hundreds of opponents in August, 2016. Fast-forward through two years of escalating struggle to February 22, 2018, when the “Owls” – resisters who had since lived in and among the trees of Lejuc – were forcefully evicted. Police patrols, surveillance and searches of area inhabitants intensified through the spring.

Undeterred, about 3,000 opponents from across France joined a day-long teach-in, march and rally on June 16 in the town of Bar-de-Luc. The Owls and two of the oldest opposition groups delivered the keynote speech together. They acknowledged that “We do not all share the same strategies, the same reflections on the world, and sometimes the same goals for the future. No matter, we tolerate our respective methods… We are here to demonstrate that the division strategies undertaken by the government for months are futile…”

They called on all French anti-nuclear and environmental groups to boycott a highly-touted government “consultation” with the local population this fall, because the consultation won’t stop the dump. Instead, a large national gathering of opponents during the first week of September will move their struggle forward in solidarity.

At least 30 people were arrested that weekend and over the next couple of days for graffiti and vandalism at dump-related businesses.

On June 20, the French state struck back. Five hundred police raided 13 homes of activists in several towns plus the House of Resistance in Bure, epicenter of the struggle. Eight people were jailed overnight or a few days more. Five of them were indicted and then barred from the district. They also cannot have contact with other defendants or leave the country. Many others were detained to record their ID. In Paris, Etienne Ambroselli, attorney for many of the resisters, was arrested during a raid on his home office and held in custody for two days.

The operation followed police investigation of three incidents: major demonstrations in February and August of 2017, and the June, 2017 vandalism and fire at a hotel-restaurant that is part of ANDRA’s above-ground research campus, a nuclear foot-in-the-door established two decades ago just outside Bure.

Police have named some of the opponents a criminal gang, threatening to criminalize anyone who associates with them, as well. Even those who have spoken to the media about opposition events in and around Bure are now also accused of support for illegal actions that may have occurred at the events. A collective website that chronicled the resistance of the Owls has closed down over threats to prosecute the named owners. Meanwhile, hundreds of academics, activists and public notables condemned the police action and openly declared their solidarity.

On August 18, police acting on a European Union warrant from Germany arrested Loïc Schneider, 23, (also known at Loïc Citation) as he visited family in the area. Schneider was first arrested in 2015 for cyber attacks on ANDRA and two regional councils who are cooperating with the dump plans, and sentenced to four months in jail, suspended. He is also appealing a prison sentence for taking down fences at the ANDRA campus, and chose to go underground when the German warrant for his participation in the 2017 protests at the G-20 summit in Hamburg was announced in May.

In court on August 22, the European Union warrant for Schneider’s arrest was deemed valid, but he has appealed. The court has 40 days to rule on the appeal before Schneider can be deported to Germany to answer charges there. He remains in prison in France until then.

Another activist, known as el hibou (the owl, in Catalan), was jailed after trial this summer and is due to be released in September. He will then be barred from the Meuse and Haute-Marne districts, where he has long lived and where the resistance is centered.

Cards and letters of support should be sent to Loïc Citation and “El Hibuo”, c/o the House of Resistance, 2 rue de l’Eglise, 55290 Bure, France.