Getting a portrait of Emmanuel Macron to denounce climate inaction may fall within the scope of freedom of expression, according to the Court of Cassation

The Court of Cassation overturned, Wednesday, September 22, a judgment of the Bordeaux Court of Appeal which condemned eight “Portrait dropouts” Emmanuel Macron to fines of up to 600 euros. The highest judicial body in the country had been seized by several groups of “Dropouts” (sixteen people in total), ANV-Cop21 activists, who had stolen with their face uncovered and without violence at the beginning of 2019 portraits of Emmanuel Macron, in town halls in Lyon, in Ain and in the Bordeaux region, to protest against France’s inaction on the climate. They challenged their fine sentences for “Meeting flight”.

While the advocate of “Dropouts”, Paul Mathonnet, had pleaded for freedom of expression, arguing that “The offense can be the message, when the offense makes sense (…), is part of the message it is staging ” in a non-violent way, the Bordeaux Court of Appeal, the only one before which this question had been argued, had on the contrary insisted on the fact that freedom of expression can never justify committing an offense.

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The Court of Cassation considered that the Court of Appeal had thus failed in its obligation to ” to research (…) if the criminalization of the conduct prosecuted did not constitute (…) a disproportionate attack on the freedom of expression of defendants ”. She therefore quashed the decision, and the appeal of the “Dropouts” will have to be retried, in Toulouse.

Relief for defendants who refused DNA samples

The Court of Cassation has, moreover, confirmed an appeal decision in Lyon relaxing the defendants of the refusal of a DNA sample during their custody, on the grounds of the “Disproportion between, on the one hand, the low objective and relative seriousness of the offense of which the persons concerned were suspected at the time of their refusal to submit to the disputed sample and, on the other hand, the breach of respect for private life”. She, in the same vein, quashed a conviction of the Bordeaux group for refusing to submit to these levies.

Me Mathonnet welcomed the decision on freedom of expression, a “Very good news for all supporters of non-violent actions”. He also welcomed this “First refusal to condemn refusals to take samples” of DNA in this type of symbolic, non-violent, open-face action.

The applicants also contested the rejection of their invocation of “State of necessity”, which makes it possible to infringe – so “Proportionate” – the law in the face of imminent danger. But the Court of Cassation confirmed the analysis of the appellate courts, arguing that, even if the climate emergency is undeniable, obtaining a presidential portrait is not in itself likely to avoid its impacts, even if the authorities would not do enough to fight global warming.

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“We are more disappointed with the state of necessity,” noted Rémi Donaint, spokesperson for the ANV-COP21 network which had organized the dropouts. “But it is clearly a great satisfaction to see a certain recognition of the legitimacy of these non-violent actions of civil disobedience which have developed a lot in recent years,” he stressed. About ten trials of “Dropouts” are still expected.

Read the point of view: Towards a state of ecological necessity?

The World with AFP