“The police surrounded us while we slept, then handcuffed us!”

“The police surrounded us while we slept, then handcuffed us!”
“The police surrounded us while we slept, then handcuffed us!”

An occupation ends. Another one is born. While the students installed in the Uni-mail hall for almost a week, in support of Gaza, were evacuated at dawn on Tuesday, the Geneva High Schools (HES-SO) joined the movement. The Student Coordination for Palestine of the HES-SO (CEP HES-SO) announced that an occupation of the HEPIA had started today, at 10 a.m.

This announcement came during a rally on Tuesday morning in front of Uni-Mail. On this occasion, the occupants of the University of Geneva took stock of the events that occurred during the night.

Around sixty people arrested

“Around 5 a.m., 25 plainclothes police officers discreetly entered the hall. They surrounded us while we were sleeping, then handcuffed us one by one,” says one occupant. Around sixty people were arrested and taken to the Gravière police station. This intervention follows the filing of a criminal complaint by the rectorate for home invasion, after the students refused to comply with an ultimatum.

“There was no warning”

The students had not considered this scenario. “The day before, we had made a collective decision: to leave the premises at the first request from the police. But there, they didn’t even give us this opportunity. There was no warning. The instructions were clear: get everyone on board,” regrets a student from CEP Unige.

“How can we explain such a repressive response?”

“The most stressful thing was seeing 25 police officers with their faces hidden around us. I didn’t understand!”, testifies a member of the CEP. “Saturday, the rector said that she would call on the police as a last resort, 48 hours later, she fired. We are a peaceful movement, how can we explain such a repressive response when there has never been any violence on our side?” asks a student.

Occupants released

The Public Ministry indicates that “the police provisionally arrested the people who occupied the university premises, within the framework of their prerogatives in the event of flagrante delicto”. They were interviewed, then either released or made available to the prosecution.

During the morning, the occupants were gradually freed. Shortly after midday, all those arrested were released. They hope that the rectorate’s complaint will be withdrawn.

Use of handcuffs deemed disproportionate

The use of handcuffs was strongly criticized during the rally. A law doctoral assistant said its use was “totally disproportionate. The students posed no danger!”

For lawyer Laïla Batou, “The use of handcuffs was not necessary. It is humiliating and criminalizing. Since the rectorate has chosen to involve the police, this is what it is exposing students to who were asking for a debate. The charge of home invasion is quite serious and can carry up to three years of imprisonment, even if in practice the sentences will be more of the order of 30 to 60 suspended fine days, which remains problematic because they appear in the criminal record.”

According to her, “the rectorate should also clarify the fact that its complaint does not prevent the students concerned from returning to the building, in particular to take classes.” “The answer is unequivocal! These people are obviously welcome at Unige and can continue to access its premises normally,” assures Marco Cattaneo, communications manager at the alma mater.

The mobilization continues

Although the occupation is over at Uni-Mail, “the mobilization will continue in a form that remains to be defined,” underlines the CEP Unige. Like HEPIA, the movement has also grown in other institutions in Switzerland.

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