France: Acquittal of farmer who helped asylum seekers shows that solidarity is not a crime

Responding to the final decision of the Appeal Court of Lyon to acquit Cédric Herrou, a farmer charged with “facilitation of irregular entry” just for helping and hosting asylum seekers in France, Rym Khadhraoui Amnesty International’s Researcher, said:

“The case against Cédric Herrou is emblematic of how acts of solidarity have become criminalized across Europe, therefore the significance of today’s decision will be felt far beyond this courtroom.

The case against Cédric Herrou is emblematic of how acts of solidarity have become criminalized across Europe
Rym Khadhraoui, Amnesty International

“It is not only a victory for justice but also for common sense. Cédric Herrou did nothing wrong, acted in solidarity with people abandoned in dire conditions by European states.

 “Whilst it is a relief that Cédric Herrou’s ordeal is now over, he should never have been charged in the first place.

The significance of today’s victory will be felt far beyond this courtroom
Rym Khadhraoui, Amnesty International

“In the wake of today’s decision and 2018’s ruling by France’s Constitutional Council that humanitarian activities should not be criminalized, French law should be amended to ensure only smuggling, which entails a material benefit, is regarded as an offence.”

BACKGROUND

Cédric Herrou was first convicted in 2017 by the lower criminal court of Nice for facilitating the irregular circulation, stay and entry of refugees and migrants in Valley Roya, at the French-Italian border.

His case triggered a change in French law, following a review by the Constitutional Council of the offence of facilitation in 2018. Although the law now includes a humanitarian exemption, this exemption does not apply to cases of “facilitation of irregular entry” and does not require material benefit for prosecution. Solidarity acts are still criminalized and French legislation is still at odds with international law, as it punishes acts of solidarity.

Amnesty International has documented in the report Punishing compassion: solidarity on trial in Fortress Europe https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/1828/2020/en/, how, in absence of the objective element of material gain to define the offence of “facilitating illegal entry”, the law is being misused to target human rights defenders because of their alleged political views.