France: Criminal conviction for a tweet will have chilling effect on migrant rights defenders

Following the conviction of Loan Torondel, a human rights defender charged with defamation for a tweeted photograph of policemen standing over one of the many people systematically evicted from informal camps in Calais, Nicolas Krameyer, Programme Manager at Amnesty International France, said:

“This outrageous decision sets a dangerous precedent for anybody attempting to document the disproportionate use of force employed by the police in Calais and throughout the country. It will also have a chilling effect on the work of migrant rights defenders and leave migrants and refugees in an even more precarious situation.

“This case highlights the harassment and intimidation of volunteers dedicated to providing aid to migrants and asylum seekers who have been left homeless in northern France after the 2016 closure of the informal 'Jungle' camp.

This will have a chilling effect on the work of migrant rights defenders and leave migrants and refugees in an even more precarious situation
Nicolas Krameyer, Amnesty International France

“Criminal defamation laws that inhibit legitimate criticism of public officials are contrary to the right to freedom of expression. The authorities must stop harassing human rights defenders through the courts.”

BACKGROUND

The tweet, which human rights defender Loan Torondel posted in January 2018 when he monitored the humanitarian situation of migrants and refugees as part of the Calais-based group L’Auberge des Migrants, shows French police officers standing over a man who appears to be a migrant sitting on his sleeping bag. The caption suggests the officers are about to take away the man’s blanket for the second time in the middle of winter.

Amnesty International opposes laws criminalizing defamation, whether of public figures or private individuals, which should be treated as a matter for civil litigation.

Amnesty International is aware of numerous reports which suggest abusive behaviour by police forces against refugees and migrants and those who defend their rights in the area of Calais.

 Loan plans to appeal the sentence.