For more than 14 months, Libre Flot has been incarcerated in a French prison. He languishes in solitary confinement; a political prisoner who hasn’t even faced trial yet.
For the last month, he has been on hunger strike. A few days ago, he was hospitalised for a second time after suffering from chest pressure and sharp pain in his heart. He is getting weaker and weaker, and is finding it difficult to move.
So, what is Libre Flot accused of, and why is he imprisoned?
Flot is one of many internationalists who travelled to North and East Syria (commonly known as Rojava) to join the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the fight against Daesh (ISIS), and to defend the anti-capitalist revolution in the region. After returning to France, he was one of seven people who was arrested in December 2020 and accused of being part of “a criminal association planning a terrorist attack”. He says that he has been framed because of his links to the YPG, and that he was spied upon by the French state including being:
followed, traced, bugged 24 hours a day in my vehicle, my home, spied on even in my bed.
The six others were released, but Flot remains in prison, in what he describes as “hellish and permanent solitude”. He says:
it is my political opinions and my participation in the Kurdish YPG forces in the fight against Daesh that they are trying to criminalize. It has been more than 14 months that 7 people who do not know each other are accused of being part of a criminal association.
Flot argues that the investigation against him is biased, and that the state “investigates only for the prosecution and never for the defense.” He continues:
[The investigating judge] allows himself [to give me] the most unacceptable insult by referring to the barbarians of the Islamic State as my “friends from Daesh”. Although verbal, this remains an unfathomable act of violence. It is inadmissible that this judge grants himself the right to insult me to the highest degree, tries to smear me, and thus spits on the memory of my Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, Turkmen, Armenian, Turkish and international friends and comrades who have fallen in the struggle against this organization. I am still outraged by this.
European states criminalising revolutionaries
Flot isn’t the only international who has found themselves behind bars after joining the revolution in North and East Syria. The UK has also charged and prosecuted a number of its citizens. There’s 18-year-old Londoner Silhan Ozcelik, who was imprisoned in 2015 after she attempted to go and fight against Daesh in Rojava. There’s Jim Matthews, who was charged with terrorism offences for fighting in the YPG in 2018. The charges were finally dropped against him. And then there’s Aidan James, who was sentenced to prison for terrorism in 2019. He also fought in the YPG against Daesh. Like Flot, James was remanded in prison for a number of months before his trial even began. Then, in July 2020, terrorism charges against three British men were also dropped after an “extraordinarily misplaced prosecution”. Those who were charged included Paul Newey, a 49-year-old father from Solihull, who sent £150 to his son Dan, a volunteer with the YPG. Another of those charged, Daniel Burke, spent eight months in prison on remand before the charges were dropped.
But it’s not just YPG volunteers who are targeted by European states. Matt Broomfield, a professional journalist from the UK, was detained while on holiday in Greece, thrown into a Greek detention centre, and imprisoned for two months. He was subsequently banned from the 26 countries that make up the Schengen Area for ten years. Broomfield hasn’t actually been told what his crime is, but he is certain it is because he volunteered as a journalist in Rojava. Others who have volunteered in North and East Syria have faced similar Schengen bans.
So why are these people such targets? It’s because they have volunteered in a region of the world where revolution has succeeded, against all odds; a region that is anti-capitalist, attempting to give power to the grassroots. And it is a society that centres on women’s liberation, religious tolerance, and minority protection as key. This is, of course, a very real and direct threat to the world’s powerful, particularly those who rule under a thinly-veiled guise of ‘democracy’.
International day of action
Activists have called for an international day of action in solidarity with Flot. They say:
The 4th of April will be his 36th day of hunger strike.
The 4th of April is also his birthday.
On this day, we call for an international day of solidarity. We call upon all comrades and every decent human being with a sense of justice to protest outside French embassies, consulates or institutes, or to find any other way to voice their objection to this blatant injustice.
For radicals around the world, the prosecution of those who have risked their lives in Rojava should continue to be of massive concern. As capitalist states begin to see their rule threatened, they will come for more of us. Whether it is the fighters in the YPG or the activists who defended themselves against the police in Bristol, more and more of us will begin to see our freedoms being taken away.
Featured image via Xavier Malafosse / Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons 1.0 license, resized to 770 x 403px
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