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Politics

Freedom of expression. Why are boycott actions becoming illegal?

Translated Sunday 15 November 2015, by Ciaran Edwards

By Patrick le Hyaric, director of l’Humanité. Following a ruling made in the Court of Cassation on 20th October this year, France risks becoming one of the only countries in the world where simply calling for a boycott as a course of action could be made illegal.

Following a ruling made in the Court of Cassation on 20th October this year, France risks becoming one of the only countries in the world where simply calling for a boycott as a course of action could be made illegal. In fact, the Supreme Court just confirmed the sentence in the Colmar Court of Appeal for 12 activists. It reproached them for having taken part, on 26th September 2009 and then on 22nd May 2010, in a protest in front of a shop owned by the Carrefour group near Mulhouse. The protest called for a boycott of products that come from Israel and particularly those sent from colonised and occupied territories, in violation of international law. While the initiative was taking place, nothing was defaced, nothing kept the shop from doing business or prevented free trade, no complaints from the shop itself were made, and no anti-Semitic ideas were expressed.

A call for citizens to exercise their freedom to choose while shopping

This did not prevent the court from seeing it as constituting a crime of “inciting discrimination, hatred or violence towards a person or a group of people based on their origin or their belonging to a particular ethnicity, nation, race or religion”. It is mind-boggling in a country of human rights, in this country where not so long ago all the political forces and the media explained how they contributed to the release of Nelson Mandela and to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Acknowledgement, late for some, of an international boycott of South African products, used very effectively as a political action to bring about that country’s liberation. The same intervention method was used by the people against the Burmese junta and even against Mexico to get freedom for Florence Cassez. Not one of these boycotts ended up with court cases, and good thing too! Never had a French government published circulars like the ones sent out by ex-Ministers Mr Mercier and Ms Alliot-Marie in 2010, asking prosecutors to rigorously pursue activists protesting for the application of international law in Palestine.

In Israel itself, there is debate over this issue. Approved in the Knesset in July 2011 with just a one-vote majority, the law punishing “any person or entity calling for an economic, cultural or academic boycott” in Israeli settlements in the West Bank is still suspended by the Tel Aviv Supreme Court. How then, in these circumstances, does the French Court of Cassation justify being so excessively strict with its ruling? Other than with its political desire to stifle a mobilisation that might use the boycott movement to bring about the application of… international law. Something that, founded by 171 international organisations, is a call for citizens to exercise their freedom to choose while shopping. It therefore does nothing to hinder free trade while the importers and foreign businesses who take advantage of occupied territories exonerate themselves from international law without batting an eyelid.

It is even less defendable given that states, including our own and the European Union, use embargoes as a political and diplomatic weapon. It is imperative that we strongly demand that the government cancel the circulars sent out by right-wing Ministers Mercier and Alliot-Marie. Parliament should be rid of this violation of both free speech and the right to protest. The lawyers who are going to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights deserve to be supported. It’s freedom of speech that’s at stake!


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