Six to twelve months suspended prison sentence was requested, Tuesday, November 28, against the supposed organizers of banned demonstrations in Sainte-Soline (Deux-Sèvres) against the basins, irrigation reserves whose merits were occupied the debates.

Eight months after the violent clashes between environmental activists and law enforcement near a basin construction site in Sainte-Soline, the Niort criminal court put its decision concerning the nine defendants under advisement until January 17.

This marathon hearing of almost fourteen hours allowed the parties to present their arguments: the farmers targeted by the damage expressed their “trauma” and expressed their needs for irrigation, while the defendants invoked the right to demonstrate and shared their concern about the impending “climate hell.”

The prosecutor, Julien Wattebled, asked the court to “find a balance between freedom of expression and the maintenance of social cohesion”, while describing a department where “fear has reigned for too long”. “Our role is to say stop, because since this summer we have had announcements of outbidding which tell you that it will be even stronger,” he said, while a next anti-basin mobilization is announced for July 2024 in the Poitou, just before the Paris Olympic Games.

The prosecution criticizes a “climate of terror”

The prosecutor portrayed Julien Le Guet, spokesperson for the “Bassines non merci” collective, which calls for a moratorium on these agricultural reserves, as being “at the heart of the organization” of the banned demonstrations, requesting twelve months in prison against him with suspended sentence, 2,100 euros fine and a ban on approaching the Sainte-Soline and Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon reserves.

The prosecution, castigating a “climate of terror”, also requested an eight-month suspended sentence against Joan Monga, alias Basile Dutertre, and six months against Nicolas Garrigues, alias Benoît Feuillu, two activists from the Uprisings of the Earth, a collective whose dissolution requested by the Ministry of the Interior was canceled at the beginning of November by the Council of State. Fines and various banning measures were requested against the six other defendants.

In front of the court, dozens of demonstrators came to support the defendants, who had denied in September having been the organizers of the gatherings in Sainte-Soline. Around a hundred people then gathered at the Oulmes basin (Vendée), according to the gendarmerie, who did not report any damage.

“Climate Hell”

“Obviously it’s a political trial,” argued Me Marie Dosé, lawyer for MM. Le Guet and Monga, denouncing a “skinless investigation” and demanding acquittal. Me Balthazar Lévy, lawyer for Nicolas Girod (Peasant Confederation), asked the court to “remove pressure from the executive power”. “We need people to slow down this car which is heading towards climate hell,” he said, referring to a “fundamental right”.

The hearing, which was suspended on September 8 “for the serenity of the debates” in an overheated atmosphere, was dominated by the question of the appropriateness of the basins. These “substitution reserves”, which aim to store water drawn from groundwater in winter in order to irrigate crops in summer, are for their supporters essential harvest insurance for the survival of their farms in the face of repeated droughts. .

Conversely, opponents describe a “grab” of water by agro-industry. They welcome the cancellation by administrative justice at the beginning of October of two projects relating to the creation of fifteen water reservoirs in Poitou-Charentes, for their unsuitability to the effects of climate change.

At the bar, farmers came to express their dismay and Thierry Boudaud, president of the Coop de l’eau, a group of operators which is leading the project of sixteen contested reserves, described the “trauma” in the face of the violence.

Clashes with the police

Me Sébastien Rey, lawyer for Coop de l’eau, considered that this trial should make it possible to define “what is acceptable or not in freedom of expression”. He claimed nearly 950,000 euros for material damage in terms of security of the Sainte-Soline basin (barriers, guarding, etc.).

After initial violence during the October 2022 demonstration in Sainte-Soline, the March 2023 demonstration quickly degenerated into clashes with the gendarmes, leaving many injured. Two demonstrators had spent several weeks in a coma.

A parliamentary commission of inquiry concluded in mid-November that there was “overwhelming responsibility of the three organizers” of Sainte-Soline. In a report, the Human Rights League, for its part, denounced a “disproportionate use” of weapons (tear gas grenades, LBD) by the police.