I have been writing for years about the alarming decline of free speech in France where citizens are routinely investigated and prosecuted for criticism groups or religions. We discussed this trend most recently with the prosecution of far right politician Marine Le Pen for her exercise of free speech against immigration. Now, France’s Supreme Court (the Court of Cassation) has upheld the shocking prosecution of twelve anti-Israel activists for protesting Israel and supporting the global boycott movement of Israeli goods. It is an appalling moment for a nation that once embodied the very essence of Western Civilization and freedoms.
As many of you know, I am a huge fan of France and love visiting the country. However, the rapidly declined free speech rights in France (as with crackdowns in England, Canada, and other nations) is incredibly depressing.
We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have seen comedians targets with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here).
In the case of Le Pen, she complained that there were “10 to 15” places in France where Muslims worshipped in the streets outside mosques when they were full: “I’m sorry, but for those who like talking a lot about World War II, if it comes to talking about the occupation, we can talk about it, because that (Muslims praying on the street) is the occupation of territory. . . It is an occupation of part of the territory, suburbs where religious law is applied. Sure, there are no armoured vehicles, no soldiers, but it is an occupation nonetheless and it weighs on residents.” That is all that it takes now for a political leader to be prosecuted in France.
The most recent case is the outgrowth of the global campaign in favor of “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” (BDS) of Israel. These campaigners were targeting France’s Carrefour supermarkets and protested while wearing shirts emblazoned with “Long Live Palestine, Boycott Israel.” They handed out pamphlets in the eastern city of Mulhouse alleging that the sale of Israeli goods supports “war crimes” in Gaza. They also chanted slogans like “Israel assassinates, Carrefour is complicit.” That would seem to be core political advocacy protected under even the most narrow definitions of free speech. Yet, a dozen activists – Laila Assakali, Yahya Assakali, Assya Ben Lakbir, Habiba Assakali, Sylviane Mure, Farida Sarr, Aline Parmentier, Mohammad Akbar, Jean-Michel Baldassi, Maxime Roll, Jacques Ballouey and Henry Eichholtzer – were found guilty of inciting hate or discrimination. They were convicted under the bizarrely misnamed French Freedom of the Press law which forbids “discrimination, hatred or violence toward a person or group of people on grounds of their origin, their belonging or their not belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a certain religion.”
Pascal Markowicz, head of the legal department at the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France (the umbrella group for French Jewish organisations), celebrated the obvious denial of free speech, stating “If they say their freedom of expression has been violated, then now France’s highest legal instance ruled otherwise.” Well that is certainly true, but it also true that this was a denial of free speech. It is merely a denial with the authority of a court, not an unusual situation but a disappointing one in France where freedom of speech once united that nation. Others celebrated a high court saying that BDS is essentially hate speech. Markowitz reportedly amplified this position by saying “BDS is illegal in France.”
I previously wrote about the hypocrisy of French and other leaders marching as “Friends of Charlie” after the Hebdo massacre. This celebration of free speech was followed by mass arrests of people for expressing their views in France.
We have many readers in France and that country still has many who believe strongly in the inviolate position of freedom of speech as a human right. They are clearly however in the minority as France plunges into speech controls and censorship.