A HUMANITARIAN from Stratford, on trial in France for defending a fellow volunteer helping refugees in Calais, has been ‘unjustly targeted’ says Amnesty International.
The human rights organisation is calling for charges of contempt and assault against Tom Ciotkowski to be dropped after he videoed and challenged a police officer for allegedly pushing a volunteer last July.
He was arrested and spent 36 hours in custody before being released on bail. The trail started last week in Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France.
The 30-year-old could be sentenced to five years in prison and fined up to £6,500.
Amnesty spokeswoman Maria Serran called the charges ‘outrageous’.
She said: “Tom Ciotkowski is a compassionate young volunteer who was taking action to support migrants and refugees when he was arrested. He has committed no crime and is being unjustly targeted for documenting the abusive behaviour of the police in Calais.
“Tom’s case is sadly emblematic of the harassment, intimidation and attacks that human rights defenders supporting migrants and refugees face at the hands of police in Calais. His case also reflects a wider European trend of criminalising acts of solidarity, as a way of discouraging others from standing up for human rights.
“Efforts by individuals and NGOs to help people in need should be lauded, defended and celebrated rather than criminalized. The outrageous charges against Tom Ciotkowski must be dropped – we need courageous, compassionate people like him more than ever.”
In a video produced by the organisation Mr Ciotkowski said, despite the ordeal, he was determined to continue helping others in need.
He said: “As a human being you shouldn’t just walk by and ignore people when they are in need.
“When the trial is over I’ll carry on with the work I’m doing with refugees and try and bring some kind of light on the situation in Calais so that it’s not ignored any longer.
“I don’t really think of myself as a human rights defender, just as a human being looking out for other human beings.”
And Stratford district councillor Jason Fojtik, a friend of the family, is calling on MPs to step in on behalf of Mr Ciotkowski.
He said: “It just shows how the authorities in France do not want us to know what’s going on in Calais. They have complete contempt for the rule of law and decency.
“All people have rights, we are all human regardless of our nationality and abusing these must be called out.”
Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi confirmed to the Observer he was aware of Mr Ciotkowski’s case and had met with him and his family last year.