"It’s a legitimate action on behalf of the penitentiary organizations like ours – firstly, taking into account the negligence and the misunderstanding of the [justice] minister. If something like that happened with the police, the interior minister would react immediately… And here, the incident took place on Thursday [January 11], and only on Saturday, the justice minister came to meet the labor unions representing the prison guards. The debates that we had were carried out in a spirit of contempt to the agents, they shut the door in the face of the CGT, FO and L’Ufap Unsa [trade unions]," Ambroise Koubi, CGT Penitentiaire regional secretary for Paris, told Sputnik.
The unrest was sparked by an assault on prison guards by a radicalized inmate in a prison in the French northern commune of Vendin-le-Vieil on January 11. French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet received the labor unions representing the country's prison guards only two days later, where the latter hoped to receive specific proposals to improve their hard working conditions.
Next day, Belloubet arrived at the infamous prison in Vendin-le-Vieil, where she was greeted by the angry crowd. According to Koubi, the failure to provide a prompt response to the issue resulted in the further rise in tensions between the authorities and the protesters.
"Only on Tuesday, [Belloubet] went to meet the agents themselves. All this led to an aggravation of the situation. The syndicates had to articulate their demands, demand for more means. We are asked to oversee, I’d rather say, the prisoners of war, terrorists who often did take part in a war, and our supervisors do not specialize in guarding the radicals," Koubi noted.
Koubi explained that the demonstrations should be perceived as an attempt to ensure the establishment of decent working conditions for prison workers rather than their refusal to carry out their duties.
"What we state today is that we do not have enough personnel to take care of the radicalized prison population, on one hand, and also given that we are not qualified; for that a specific training is needed. We need the means to be able to work in decent conditions; we do not refuse fulfilling our sovereign duties, but we need means to be able to work efficiently," Koubi said.
According to media reports, the number of individuals mobilized for the strike by the Ufap-Unsa Justice, CGT Penitentiaire and FO Penitentiaire unions ranges from 6,000 to 7,000. Up to 150 prison complexes are reportedly being blocked around the country, including the Fresnes prison, where two prisoners charged with planning a terrorist attack in October are incarcerated. A Cameroonian national, 28, and a 22-year-old French citizen were accused of plotting a potential hostage-taking or machine gun attack from their cell.
The views and opinions expressed by Ambroise Koubi are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.