EVRAS arson attacks: Two more schools targeted in Liège

EVRAS arson attacks: Two more schools targeted in Liège
Ecole des Cites in Montigny-sur-Sambre, Charleroi, Friday 15 September 2023. This week has seen fires in five other schools linked to protests against the Evras programme introduced to protect and educate children but now the target of religious criticism and protest. Credit: Belga

Two schools in the Liège region have become the latest targets of acts of vandalism on Thursday night. Both were smeared with tags protesting against the newly-introduced EVRAS sexual education policy and one of them was hit by a fire, local press report.

At the Xhovémont neighbourhood school, the rear of the school buildings was set alight, though the flames were extinguished quickly and the damage was not significant. The school is open but has so far issued no further comment. Acts of vandalism were also noted at the Naniot communal school, on which tags were found.

"Emotions are running high, even if the damage is limited," Frédéric Daerden, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation minister responsible for school buildings, told Belga News Agency early on Friday afternoon. Daerden has been in contact with Liège alderman Jean-Pierre Hupkens, who is in charge of public education.

These events come as a sixth school was the target of an arson attack on Thursday night in Charleroi.

"Whether it's at the level of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, at the level of the various schools or at the level of the different public authorities, we have to try to put a stop to things. It's unacceptable." Daerden asserted that a lack of understanding about the EVRAS plan, which has been grossly misrepresented by hardline religious opponents.

The schools that have been affected in Charleroi. Credit: Belga

On Friday morning, education minister for the French-speaking Community Caroline Désir and Charleroi Mayor Paul Magnette visited Montignies-sur-Sambre to see the damage to a school burnt overnight. They strongly denounced the "lies" and "smear campaigns" circulating about the Education for Relationships, Emotions and Sexuality (EVRAS) programme.

On the visit they noted the extensive damage caused to the building's exterior and comforted the teaching teams. Magnette castigated the scaremongering currently spreading on social networks against EVRAS, saying they were the work of "far right and radical religious groups".

For her part, Désir strongly criticised the same lies leading to "barbaric acts" against schools. "On social networks, we can spot in particular the action of tiny groups obviously coming from France and knowing nothing about EVRAS." Both officials again took the opportunity to emphasise that the policy will absolutely not present pornography to pupils or teach them to masturbate, nor will it incite them to change genders. "All that is lies," they repeated.

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A notice for criminal associations has been opened by the Federal Judicial Police (PJF) following the six fires that have affected schools in Charleroi since Tuesday night, the Charleroi public prosecutor's office confirmed on Friday. An investigation is underway.

"The first four fires were linked to an anti-Evras movement. For the last two fires, there is no material evidence at this stage to link them to this phenomenon", said Charleroi public prosecutor Vincent Fiasse.

But given the proximity of the two un-tagged fires, the Federal Judicial Police is investigating these cases with the others. A notice for criminal conspiracy has been opened.

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