Brussels: The struggle against the construction of a maxi-prison
This analysis was originally published in “Ricochets” n° 1 in November 2014, a newsletter in French on the struggle against the construction of the maxi-prison in Haren, Brussels. The following text is the first in a series of translations by Person(s) Unknown Publications, as part of a new brochure in the making on the struggle against the maxi-prison:
The Belgian state want to build a new prison in Haren, north of Brussels. It is supposed to become the largest prison in Belgium, a maxi-prison [maximum security prison complex], a genuine prison town that would include five different prisons on the same terrain. Like other new prisons built in the last two years, this one in Brussels would also be developed by what is called a “private-public partnership”. This means that the construction and management of the prison is entirely in the hands of private companies, and that the State rents out for 25 years to these companies, after which it eventually becomes state property. Therefore you don’t have to look far to understand the huge economic interests that this project represents.
The maxi-prison will also be the first Belgian prison where it will be possible to lock up vast numbers of people at the same time (the complex composes of 1,200 cells), for men as for women and children. A court established within the prison is intended to help limit the detainees movements even more to a minimum.
The construction of this atrocity is the icing on the cake of the “master plan” designed by prior governments, envisaging the construction of approximately nine new prisons, throughout the country. This plan is sold to the public as the ultimate answer to overpopulation, and the advanced breakdown of certain prisons, as a major step towards more humane confinement, with more attention to the integrations of prisoners. Such a manoeuvre became almost inevitable for power, seeing that for years the prison world has been plagued by escapes, hostage-taking of prison guards, refusal to go back to the cells, large and small uprisings. In addition, detention conditions have led to several international authorities slapping the Belgian state on the wrist. They therefore want to do away with the disorder, revolt and international attention. But all this ‘out of a hat’ humanisation discourse in times of supposed crisis, to ensure that the public accepts this enormous influx of money for imprisonment, is obviously absolute bullshit. This is only contemporary packaging for something ancient; the power that sharpens its repressive weapons even more; to shelter itself, to defend its system, to preserve its direction towards more control and oppression.
In different ways we currently inject money into the Justice System of Belgium. There are not only the thousands of new cells, there is also the extension of electronic tagging, house arrest, community service, fines, etc. For the state, it is not to humanise its punishments, but instead to extend them to all those who continue to re-enter DIY structures to stay out of the lap of justice. In greatly increasing the prison capacity and expanding the possibilities for alternative sentencing, they want to give us all the possible means to have more of a grasp in society; in order to punish even more people and lock them up in prison, their accommodation, with a job, or financial debts.
And the powerful understand more than ever that the achievement of this goal is not only by the traditional foundations of the repressive apparatus. If we look at the city of Brussels, we see that the maxi-prison is not the only project with the objective to control people, to determine their behaviour in different ways, to influence and to limit their daily lives. To the far remote corners of the city, the projects that evidently grow like mushrooms: the construction of new police stations to the installation of more CCTV, additionally by the increased presence of police in the street. The extension of the European district to create an extremely well controlled public transport network, that must bring the workforce living outside of the city quickly and efficiently to their workplace. The construction of temples dedicated to ever-growing consumption, the implementation of new expensive accommodation in the poorest neighbourhoods, so as to achieve “social cleansing”. All these brilliant inventions are nothing more than instruments with the sole aim of keeping people in line, or to force them to toe the line, and; to target, humiliate, hunt or lock up those who can not, or who consciously refuse. The new maxi-prison in Haren and the urban renovation in Brussels are two sides of the same coin.
It’s been almost two years since the first leaflets expressing a radical opposition to the construction of the prison were distributed in Haren, connecting the umpteenth repressive project of the state directly with the slow but certain transformations of the city into a large open-air prison. Since then, the struggle was born which has experienced many different initiatives and intensities: leaflets, posters, tags, gatherings, occupations, demonstrations, sabotage and direct action. All these initiatives breath an anti-political attitude, and are an invitation to each and everyone to also go on the attack, into direct conflict with the powerful and their plans. They also claim autonomy of the struggle, encouraging everyone to organise themselves when, how and with whom he/she/they deem best, in direct confrontation against that which oppresses us.
The construction of the maxi-prison in Haren will never be prevented only with words. Imagination, ideas, perseverance, passion and acts of each and everyone of us can fuel a fire that not a single project, of any stronghold of power, is able to resist. Continue to explore the paths, taking action.
Recent developments in the struggles against the prisons in Belgium
This text was originally published in French by Contra Info, March 2015. The following news round-up is the second in a series of translations by Person(s) Unknown Publications, as part of a new brochure in the making on the struggle against the maxi-prison in Haren, Brussels:
Bomb threat against the three buildings of the European Parliament in Brussels that were evacuated due to a suspicious vehicle, February 2nd 2015.
Descent of cops to “the Passage” – On the 14th January at 7:30pm, a pack of cops were stationed in Anderlecht (Brussels) in front of the Passage, local to the struggle against the maxi-prison. On the square next to it, two unmarked wagons waiting. Is this related to the uncontrollable demonstration that took place in the streets of the neighbourhood earlier today? Did they want to put pressure on the public discussion scheduled that evening entitled “Direct action against the maximum prison”? Regardless, after half an hour the pack moves on, the discussion takes place after a delay. After an hour of discussion, three vans and two cop cars with the police commissioner return in a flash. We then rush towards the door to prevent them from entering. They finally manage to break in with a crowbar, then take the identities and search certain people present, not without some varied and diverse resistance. Nine people who refuse to give their identities are also embarked upon, and the room is searched. After an identity control at Démosthène police station, all those arrested are more or less rapidly released, and overhear that the pretext was because the cops were looking for items related to “attacks” committed the same day against “an architectural office”. If the sudden intrusion of over a dozen boys in blue into our immediate environment is always unpleasant, rather than to moan, this will only strengthen our will to fight against the maxi-prison and those who want to build it.
Wild demonstration in Anderlecht, construction company of the prison attacked – Wednesday 14th January, it was not cold everywhere… An uncontrollable demonstration warmed the streets of Anderlecht (Brussels) a little. At around 6pm, a flare is lit, some tags are quickly made, and around thirty people take the street behind banners against the maxi-prison, identity controls and police raids. Leaflets are distributed along the route. At Clemenceau metro station, the cash machine of a bank is broken. At the intersection of the streets Clémenceau and Clinique, dozens of windows of the VK Engineering office are attacked; who are involved in the construction of the new prison in Beveren, collaborating in the planned construction of the maxi-prison in Haren, as well as the new prison in Dendermonde. The procession then dispersed, a little too late.
Incendiary devices found in front of an architectural office – In Leuven, two unexploded incendiary devices are discovered in front of the architects Jaspers & Eyers. The offices as well as the surrounding streets are evacuated. The Bomb Disposal Unit use their robot to neutralise the devices. Jaspers & Eyers is the largest architectural firm in Belgium, who have worked on the construction of new prisons, the new headquarters of the federal police, and various offices of big companies.
Bomb threats galore – In recent weeks, more than 35 bomb threats or false suspicious packages have interrupted business, causing evacuations and closures of companies and institutions. In the cross-hairs: various parliaments, the European Commission, the Palace of Justice in Brussels (three times), the courts of Charleroi and Dendermonde, shopping centres, a youth prison in Ruiselede, specific stores such as “Primark” in Liège or whole zones such in Sint-Pieters Leeuw, the pharmaceutical complex of GlaxoSmithKline, and of course from the local police to the base of the federal police and its new headquarters in Brussels. The police denounce these false threats and indicate that some unknown individuals were knowingly depositing suspicious packages, such as at the federal headquarters in Etterbeek (Brussels), where a box is placed 2.5 meters high.
Escape from a detention centre – In mid-February, twelve people escape from a detention centre for undocumented migrants in Bruges. In the evening, while some undocumented inmates of the detention centre in Bruges (located next to a command post of the Federal Police) simulated a brawl in order to divert attention, others broke two windows in the “living room”. Then they attacked the fences, chemically anchored structurally, which they managed to remove. As the room is on the first floor, the twelve prisoners descended with the help of knotted sheets. Finally, they climb one last fence before disappearing into the wild.
Rain of Molotovs against the police in Laeken – On the night of New Year’s Eve in Laeken (Brussels), a police patrol is pursuing two youths who start running. The patrol repeatedly tried to run down the youth. Before even arriving: they crush the leg of the youth Abdelamine (19) against a wall. Taken to hospital, the doctors decide to amputate their leg. Another sad episode in the series of police brutality and murder. Tuesday 6th January 2015, around 8pm in the evening, dozens of people gather to remind the police that this mutilation, the official lies that followed, and atrocious comments made by police officers mocking the fate of Abdelamine will not go unanswered: stones and petrol bombs rained down on the police station in Laeken. Inside were three cops. The damage remained limited however. With the arrival of reinforcements, the attackers dispersed. Eight people were arrested during a sweep of the area, with one person later released after standing before the prosecutor.