June 28, 2010, 19:30 / Schreinerstraße, Friedrichshain
Joël is a forty-something French citizen who was the manager of an international animation film studio in Berlin at the time of the incident.
“It's 19:30 and I am waiting for my wife to come home when I here a knock on the door. At that time our neighbor, an older lady who was a bit crazy, called the police a lot - according to my lawyer, that night she told them something very violent was happening. I open the door and see three officers in plain clothes and two uniformed policemen.
“They tell me that someone may be hiding in my flat and that they needed to check it. They searched everywhere - under the bed, in the closet - with their guns drawn. The head officer asks for my papers, so I give him my passport. He goes out to these two vans outside. He doesn’t come back for a while, so I go out to look for him and find out that there are two policemen guarding my door. I ask them what’s going on and they tell me not to move.
“One officer asks if I speak French, and of course I do, so he tells me in French that my passport is fake. That I am not French, but that I am Turkish. I say this is a mistake. I offer to show him other pieces of ID - my French driver’s license and so on - but he doesn’t want to see them. He said I have to go with him to the station. I had made a trip to Turkey in 1999, so I had a stamp on my passport from that, but he told me it was fake. By this time, the younger officers were looking really nervous and knew they were making a mistake: I could see them asking their colleague if he was sure about what he was doing. This guy was very, very aggressive. I thought he might be on drugs.
“So I leave with them. All the neighbors are out there watching me be led out by police. At the station, the head officer shouts at me, asking me where my passport was made. I said Paris, of course. Then he left and I was taken to a cell. The police come and take my shoelaces and belt. Now I am wondering if a fake passport was the real reason. I still had my phone, so I called my colleague and said “This person can explain” - but then the police took my phone. A few hours later, they take me out of the cell and take pictures and fingerprints. They want me to sign documents, but I won’t sign them because I still don’t even know why I am there. I stay there all night.
“When my wife returned home and saw the note I had left for her, she went to the police station with lots of documents proving my nationality. She speaks German - they asked if she knew for sure that I was French. She said of course she did, and that she knows my parents and has visited France with me.
“The next morning, they take me to another cell. They can’t keep me for more than 12 hours without charging me, so they gave me back everything BUT my passport. I ask to speak to a police officer who deals with foreigners, and they put me in a prisoner-transport van and take me to Schönefeld, where they take illegal immigrants.
“The Schönefeld prison is a horrible ordeal. They take pictures of me and give me humiliating, naked search. This is at around 7:30 the next morning. Then they show me a paper that I have to sign saying I am illegal and will be expelled. I ask if they are going to expel me to France and they just laugh. It’s Friday, and they say I can’t see a judge, translator or lawyer until Monday, and that they going to expel me to Istanbul. After that they put me in a cell.
“Before I was taken from my flat, I asked if I needed money and they said no, so I don’t have any money with me. I have to use another prisoner’s phone card to call my colleagues to ask them to do everything they can to get me out of there. I keep telling the guards that I need to see someone who can explain to me what is happening, so they send me to a 19-year-old woman from social services. She believes my story, but she can’t do anything for me except let me make a phone call. I try to talk to someone, but to no avail.
“At around 8:30, my lawyer calls the prison and asks if I am there. They told him they aren’t holding me anymore - that I will be out any minute - but that isn’t the truth at all.
“An hour later, an officer comes in and tells me I can go. I don’t really know where I am, and as I am leaving, I realize I don’t have any money, no phone, nothing. So I ask about this and then we have to go back into the prison and he puts me in another cell for 30 minutes. Then I am given a bus ticket that I have to sign for. Outside, everyone at the bus stop is staring at me as I leave the prison. I finally got off the bus somewhere and find a shop where they let me use the phone. I call my wife and ask her to pick me up.
“I was furious. I had business meetings that I obviously could not go to anymore. I went to see my lawyer and he said that the whole thing was incredible. He said that the head officer did not have the right to judge the validity of my passport. The police never contacted my embassy, which they have to do in these cases. They never even did any real checking to find out my nationality.
“All this happened at the time of the local elections. The day after the arrest, there was a lot of pressure put on over this: I was an investor and businessman in Berlin, so it could be embarrassing. My lawyer asked what I wanted and I said an official apology. I wanted this from the head officer, and an explanation, too. My lawyer thought this would be difficult, but he kept asking to see my file. The police just said that there was no problem with me, so there was no need to see the file.
“In the end, I got a letter stating that the Berlin police have no complaint against me and that there is no information being kept about me. Maybe I’m paranoid, but there was a van in front of my house three days later and they said they were painters, but they weren’t really painting. I’m sure they were watching me to make sure I didn’t hold a press conference. But I didn’t pursue this at all.”