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Act Up-Paris found innocent by the criminal court of Basel (Switzerland)

Activists are celebrating an almost total victory after sixteen month of legal proceedings

publié en ligne : 3 février 2014

In order to fully understand the matter, one has to go back to September 2012 : the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis tries, since 2007, to annul the Indian law forbidding evergreening. Were Novartis to win its lawsuit, consequences upon access to medicines would be terrible, warns the civil society. On the opening day of hearings before the Supreme Court of Delhi, Act Up-Paris holds a public protest in front of the company’s headquarters.

Eight activists have been brutally arrested and held in jail for 48h in ghastly conditions : “Police’s reaction has been completely disproportionate” says Laure Pora, Head of Act Up-Paris and participant, “one of us, seropositive, was not given access to his treatment. No one talked to us, we had no idea how long we would remain in jail and no mean to contact our families”. These activists went back to France without their recording equipment (seized for investigation) but were condemned to pay several hundred Euros for disruption of public safety and degradation.

In a precarious financial situation, deciding to initiate legal proceedings to contest the sentence was difficult to make for the organization. The organization had to pay legal fees without any certainty on the outcome. But not to act would help Novartis in its strategy of intimidation, covered by the Swiss police.

After 16 months of lawsuit, Swiss judges eventually agreed on the activists’ innocence

Considering the rightfulness of the action’s aim (“noble and altruistic preoccupation”) and the non-violent way of conducting said action (“no aggressive behavior, no insults, no disproportionate damage to private property”) all of the activists have been proven innocent of the charges of riot and disruption of public safety. Judges also stated that police’s intervening, although justified, has been disproportionate. They consequently granted damages to the activists for the bad treatment they suffered that will compensate with the legal fees.

Two of us, whom we see, on camera, throwing fake blood and using chalk stick, were nonetheless sentenced to a suspended fine. Judges indeed condemned the damage to private property even if, the fake blood being washable in water, the minimum punishment has been given (art. 48 al. 1 of the penal code). Act Up-Paris must remind that zaps are collective public actions in which the behavior of each participant cannot be understood as individual but as part of a group. We thus collectively assume the given sentence for degradation.

Beyond the individual case of Act Up-Paris, it is a victory for the freedom of speech and activism in Switzerland

We celebrate this decision that makes freedom of speech and public interest more important than Novartis’ brand image” says Céline Grillon, Act Up-Paris, “this jurisprudence is essential, by acknowledging legitimacy of public action in order to denounce pharmaceutical companies’ excesses”.

These excesses are very common, for example the recent publishing of a report detailing the pitiless lobbying that pharmaceutical laboratories are to display against a project aimed at producing cheaper medicines in South Africa.

The most meaningful victory has been won in April 2013 for the ill people worldwide, when New Delhi’s Supreme Court rejected, after 7 years of proceedings, Novartis’ request of making the Indian law regarding patents more pliable.

See the decision (in german) :

PDF - 464 ko

Detailed report of the motives will soon be uploaded

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