France: Landmark ECtHR judgement finds boycott campaign against Israel cannot be criminalized

Responding to today’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, that the convictions of 11 activists in France for campaign actions calling for a boycott of Israeli products violated their right to freedom of expression, Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s France Researcher said:

“Today’s landmark decision sets a significant precedent that should stop the misuse of anti-discrimination laws to target activists campaigning against human rights violations perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians.

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

Today’s decision sets a significant precedent that should stop the misuse of anti-discrimination laws to target activists campaigning against human rights violations perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians
Marco Perolini, Amnesty International

“The recognition by the ECtHR 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.”

Ruling on Baldassi and others v France case finds in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigners

Amnesty International does not take a view on the BDS movement. It is up to individuals and
organizations to determine what strategies to use in furtherance of human rights. We believe that advocates of BDS should be allowed to express their views and take forward their campaigns without harassment, threats of prosecution or criminalization, or other measures that violate the right to freedom of expression.

BACKGROUND

In September 2009, five of the applicants took part in an action inside a hypermarket in Illzach. They called for a boycott of Israeli products, handing out leaflets to raise awareness about human rights violations by Israel in the OPT. Eight of the applicants were involved in a similar action in March 2010.

They were charged with incitement to discrimination, a criminal offence in France, and convicted to a suspended fine of 1,000 Euros and 7,000 Euros in damages. The French Court of Cassation upheld their convictions in 2015.

In May 2019, the German Parliament adopted a resolution that labels the BDS campaign as antisemitic. Laws that criminalize or restrict BDS activism exist or are being discussed in several countries including Israel, USA and the UK.