On Saturday 18 January 2020, Extinction Rebellion Belgium organised a mass civil disobedience action at the 2020 Motor Show, "Salon des Mensonges", to denounce the impact of the car industry in worsening the climate and ecological crisis.
Around 185 people were arrested, and about 250 rebels took part in decentralised actions during the event.
First of all, it was surprising that the police arrested a number of people outside the show and they arrested a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, which prevented journalists from doing their job. It was surprising that photos of the faces of those arrested were taken even when not allowed, and that one person (at least) was brutalised by the police. These incidents will be addressed by XR in another occasion.
Today, we wish to draw attention to the abusive legal action taken by FEBIAC against Extinction Rebellion, in an apparent effort to harm the image of the movement rather than to really protect FEBIAC's interests in the face of the planned actions.
In the beginning of January, Febiac lodged an unilateral application to the President of the Tribunal of First Instance (civil court) of Brussels, anticipating the actions planned by XR at the Motor Show. FEBIAC did not know against which person it could take action (Extinction Rebellion has no legal personality and has several members all over, most of whom had not previously announced individually that they will take part in the planned actions) so it filed an "unilateral application", i.e. in which no opposing party is invited to appear before the judge on the day of the hearing to present its defence.
In this application, FEBIAC asked the President of the Tribunal of First Instance to issue an urgent order to prohibit the actions that had been announced by XR a few days earlier. FEBIAC repeatedly insisted on the absolute necessity to prohibit these plans beforehand and requested a fine of 5,000 € per act determined to be forbidden by the order and per person.
In an order on January 9, 2020, the President determined that FEBIAC's request was only partially valid. He did not decide on a fine of 5,000 € as requested by FEBIAC, but on a fine of 10 € per offence, and per person committing it. This amount is a "penalty payment": its purpose is to dissuade people from behaving in certain ways (in this case, engage in actions at the show) or to stop it. The order also specified that the total amount of this penalty payment could not exceed 100 €.
With the order (i.e. the judgment) in hand, FEBIAC nevertheless decided not to disclose it. A meeting between FEBIAC and Extinction Rebellion took place before the show. It is important to note that in the interest of security and transparency, XR always announces its actions and requests to meet with authorities beforehand. At no time during this meeting did FEBIAC mention the order. It also did not bother to announce the order to the press, or in the morning of the day of XR's actions, to possibly limit the damage it might suffer. FEBIAC waited for the actions to be carried out, people arrested and the salon closed. Only after these events did FEBIAC ask the bailiff, sent alone, to have the document served on the people arrested.
On a purely legal level, XR is convinced that FEBIAC's actions are abusive. It requested that the President of the Tribunal prohibit behaviour under the pretext that it would suffer irreparable damages if such an order was not made. It then failed to use the order to prevent these actions from taking place. By making these decisions, FEBIAC made the order effectively useless. Its purpose was thus to require that the people to whom the order was served pay a penalty and bailiff's fees.
From an ethical point of view, XR is not surprised that FEBIAC proceeded in this way: lies and delaying tactics are common in the car industry.
By operating in this way, the car industry is attempting to intimidate and silence XR, which is evidently impossible for a movement with the motto, "Tell the truth".
At present, XR's legal department is analysing the order that has been issued on the basis of the application that had been filed by FEBIAC and is collecting various testimonies in order to take the appropriate legal action.
In any event, whether or not the proceedings instituted by FEBIAC are considered abusive by the judge ruling on an appeal against this order, XR would also like to highlight the fact that many people served with this document had not actually taken any action prohibited by this order. Most of the people arrested did not take part in the actions inside the show but only distributed flyers on the public highway, and exercised their freedom of expression.