French judges have acquitted eight people accused of being part of an anarchist group that attempted to sabotage part of France’s high-speed rail network a decade ago, ruling that the group itself had been a “fiction”.
Defence lawyers had accused the government and authorities under the former rightwing president Nicolas Sarkozy of wrongly claiming there was a hotbed of leftwing anarchist terrorists in a sleepy village in central France and manipulating the case in order to look tough.
The notorious case, known as the Tarnac affair, began in November 2008 when more than a hundred French police officers swooped on the tiny rural village of Tarnac, arresting anti-capitalists who were living on a communal farm and running a village shop. In a vast media operation, the then rightwing government and French authorities alleged that the so-called Tarnac Nine were a cell of dangerous subversives intent on anarchist armed insurrection to overthrow the state.
At the time, villagers and the accused denied the charges, rights groups said the case was a misuse of anti-terrorism laws and lawyers said the case was deliberately being manipulated to make the government look tough against a supposed “enemy within”.
After 10 years of investigation — in which terrorist charges were dropped — and a three week trial, the two main accused – Julien Coupat, a business and sociology graduate, and his archeologist girlfriend, Yildune Lévy – were cleared of sabotage or belonging to any group.
“The hearing has allowed it to be demonstrated that the Tarnac group was a fiction,” the leading judge said.
“This is a humiliation for the anti-terrorism services of the time, for the magistrate who instructed the case, as well as for the anti-terrorist prosecutor,” said the lawyer Jérémie Assous, who defended several of those acquitted.
It emerged during the investigation that a former British police spy had infiltrated the group and made claims against them. French authorities did not pursue charges on those elements and Coupat had described the spy as “insignificant”.