Top European court tells France to compensate activists convicted for anti-Israel boycott

France was wrong to punish activists who staged “boycott Israel” protest, the European Court of Human Rights has said.

By Joe Barnes | 11 June 2020

EXPRESS –The Strasbourg-based court ruled that French judges were wrong to convict the activists who staged the demonstration at a supermarket. The ECHR said the protest, which saw shoppers urged not to buy products of Israeli origin, could not be considered an incitement to discrimination. French authorities were ordered to pay out €7,380 in damages to eleven members of the Divestment and Sanctions movement, as well as €20,000 to cover legal expenses.

The “Collectif Palestine 68” activists were changed after displaying Israeli-origin products and urging customers not to buy them at a shop near Mulhouse, eastern France, twice between 2009 and 2010.

They were protesting a series of Israeli policies, including claims that it has illegally occupied Palestinian territories. …

The activists were initially cleared of charges after arguing it was a case of free speech.

But an appeals court later overturned the ruling in 2015 and found them guilty of inciting people to discriminate against Israeli products.

They were ordered to pay a €1,000 to anti-racism groups, including the International League against Racism and Anti-Seminitism.

The ECHR said French judges should have factored in the “applicants should had not been convicted of making racist or antisemitic remarks or of inciting hatred or violence”.

“Peaceful activists in France have been increasingly targeted using inappropriate laws and criminalised simply for freely expressing their views and advocating for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions as a tool to end human rights violations against Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

“The recognition by the ECHR that these convictions violate their right to freedom of expression should send a clear message to all European states that they must stop the prosecution of peaceful activists. 

“Since 2010, French authorities have specifically instructed prosecutors to use anti-discrimination laws against BDS campaigners which are not used against activists who participate in similar boycott campaigns targeting other countries. With this decision it is now clear that no state should be exempt from peaceful criticism by campaigners. …

“We believe that advocates of BDS should be allowed to express their views and take forward their campaigns without harassment, threats of prosecution or criminalisation, or other measures that violate the right to freedom of expression.” …

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London said: “Those who today single out the only Jewish state for demonisation and delegitimisation are propagating a modern manifestation of the world’s oldest bigotry. Hate speech is not free speech.” […]

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