170 Afghans got arrested as they were blocking the Arts-Loi intersection, near prime minister Di Rupo’s office – to protest against expulsions and to request residence permits. This group of Afghans has been protesting since september and I’ve photographed quite a lot of their actions. They’ve always been reasonably calm.
This day, they were protesting since the morning near the parliament. After a few hours, they walked towards Arts-Loi where they sat down (and of course blocked the traffic). They were angry, as they just found out that police was removing all their stuff from the building they had been occuping in the Rue du Trône. So the Afghans were determined to protest until a solution was found to have a roof above their heads.
Police warned the protesters though: “you can leave now or you’ll all get arrested and possibly end up in detention centers”. The Afghans stayed and troops of riot police armed with batons and pepperspray came from everywhere to surround the protesters. Panic broke out and people started running in this circle, trying to escape from the riot police and from the pepperspray. There were even children in this circle. A woman tried to escape from the riot police, but as she got pushed by a police officer, she fell with her baby carriage and her child in it. Another mother lost her child in the turmoil: the woman got out of the riot police circle, but her child was still in it. And a man was hit on the head with a baton, with a bad head injury as a result. He was taken to the hospital as soon as possible.
The police intervened with a disproportionate use of force, to say the least. The Afghans remained calm, were unarmed and unable to defend themselves. There was no need for the police to be violent in their actions, which only caused a lot of panic and several injuries.