Conviction against human rights defenders in France
Conviction against human rights defenders in...
In parts of Europe the freedom of expression or freedom of information are being restricted by governments who are afraid to be challenged.
In Poland, many people have been put under surveillance. Hundreds have faced fines and legal action simply for gathering and protesting against the restriction of their rights. Hungarian authorities are trying to silence critical voices. New laws have come in to criminalise people working to help refugees and migrants and to make it extremely hard for NGOs to operate. In Italy, NGOs helping to rescue people crossing the central Mediterranean have faced a smear campaign and investigations.
In France, we have seen cases of people like Loan Torondel facing criminal action for helping refugees. Loan was convicted in 2018 for tweeting a photograph of policemen standing over one of the many people routinely evicted from informal camps in Calais. The caption suggests the officers are about to take away the man’s blanket despite the cold temperatures.
This criminalisation of people trying to help refugees and migrants is emerging as a dangerous pattern, which punishes people who are simply trying to do the right, or humane, thing.
Recently, ahead of the appeal against his conviction, Katia Roux, Advocacy Officer on Human Rights Defenders at Amnesty International France, said: “Loan Torondel has done nothing wrong and his defamation conviction must be overturned. His prosecution exposes the way in which human rights defenders dedicated to providing aid to people seeking safety in Europe are harassed and targeted through the criminal justice system simply for acting with humanity and compassion.” “If the conviction is allowed to stand, it will set a dangerous precedent for anybody attempting to document police abuse in France. It will also have a chilling effect on the work of people defending the rights of migrants and refugees and leave them in an even more precarious situation.”
Another case is the trial of Tom Ciotkowski, a British human rights defender who documented police abuse against migrants and refugees and volunteers who were helping them in Calais. Tom Ciotkowski is facing up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 7,500 Euros on trumped up charges. In July 2018, he was observing French riot police preventing volunteers from distributing food to migrants and refugees in Calais. He was charged with contempt and assault after he challenged the violent actions of a policeman against another volunteer.
Ahead of his trial, Amnesty International has called for all charges to be dropped and for European governments to stop treating solidarity as a crime.
Criminal defamation laws that inhibit legitimate criticism of public officials are contrary to the right to freedom of expression and must be repealed. The authorities must stop harassing human rights defenders through the courts.
In other attempts to further restrict the freedoms, there has been widespread securitisation across Europe with the expansion of counter-terrorism powers, which has seen a shift from governments providing security so that people can enjoy their rights, to governments restricting people’s rights in the name of security.