Theresa Wolfwood : l'affaire Luk Vervaet, an English review

Photo : Terry Wolfwood (left) with Aischa, a former Palestinian prisoner.

Flinker, Jean & others. L'affaire Luk Vervaet. 2011. Revue Contradictions. Bruxelles, Belgique

English review by Theresa Wolfwood.

On July 14, 2011, I received a press article from Belgium that states in part, “A Belgian prison teacher has won a two year battle against a work ban on security grounds. Luk Vervaet, who had taught in prisons for five years when he was summarily dismissed from his post in August 2009, was a regular commentator on prison issues for national newspapers and had collaborated with academic research projects into prison conditions, high suicides rates, and the growing use of solidarity confinement especially within the context of anti-terrorist regimes. For two years, Luk Vervaet and his lawyers battled through the Belgian courts for an explanation as to why he was banned from working in prisons for reasons of security and the basis of secret evidence provided by the Belgian intelligence services. ...The Constitutional Court... in a final judgment made public on 22 June, revoked the ban, citing a 1965 royal decree which require authorities to give 'serious reasons' justifying the imposition of any administrative measure. The judgment emphasised that dissident opinions were not enough to justify denying a citizen his right to exercise his livelihood in a prison.”

This book, published in French, gives the background and political context of this one person’s struggle to gain both justice and the rights of his Belgian citizenship.

In the introduction Vervaet writes, “In the most democratic country in the world I make no secret of my low opinion of prisons…My opinions are neither secret nor unusual. Throwing people into jail, as a way of dealing with poverty or law-breaking, endangers not only the prisoners, but ultimately, the safety of the very society our leaders claim to protect. For juveniles, prison is a veritable college of crime, a lab of mental illness, a drug distribution centre, a way to wreck already fragile human, family & social relationships. It ensures life-long penury.”

While under contract to a private teaching company, Vervaet taught language in the Belgian prison system for many years while writing and speaking out against the injustice he witnessed in the prison system. He co-wrote & co-edited 2 books: in 2006 with Tiny Mast, “Kim & Ken, my missing children” about mothers and their lost children; then in 2008, in ‘Contradictions’ he was able to publish a double edition of this journal, entitled, “Sent to jail? About a hidden world”, with 15 co-authors.

At this time Belgium was enforcing a new prison system with more prisoners in over-crowded jails. With rising numbers of suicides and escapes the prison system was publicly criticized by many including Vervaet; he was fired and forbidden to enter any prison as of August, 2009.

However, as this collection of essays on the legal case reveals, Vervaet was also politically active. He supported Palestinian political prisoners in Israel and said, “Since Israel is the last apartheid regime in the world, the Belgian government must support Palestinian & Arab resistance above all”. His visits to Arab prisoners in Belgium jails and his support for Arabs accused of ‘terrorism’ were an irritant to the Belgium government and firing him must have seemed like a good way to get rid of him. But Vervaet pursued his legal rights and has finally won his case in the Constitutional Court. It remains to be seen if he will regain his job and receive compensation for lost salary and for damage to his character.

The book includes both support and criticism of the case with interesting insight into the working of the media. This documentation is important for human rights supporters, not only in Belgium, but everywhere, including Canada, where free speech is also under public attack as any supporter of Palestinian rights knows. Islam phobia has revived the kind of vilification, repression and intimidation that used to be reserved for Communist sympathizers.


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