The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that French judges erred in convicting activists who staged a “boycott Israel” demonstration at a supermarket.
The activists, who were members of the “Collectif Palestine 68,” boycotted products imported from Israel as part of a campaign launched in July 2005. On September 26, 2009, five of the activists took part in an action inside of the Illzach hypermarket, calling for a boycott of Israeli products. “Collectif Palestine 68” staged a similar event in the same market on May 22, 2010.
The Colmar public prosecutor summoned the applicants before the Mulhouse Criminal Court for incitement to discrimination, among other things. The Mulhouse Criminal Court acquitted the applicants in December 2011. On appeal in 2013, the Colmar Court of Appeal set aside the former judgments that acquitted the applicants. The appeals court found the applicants guilty of incitement to discrimination. When the applicants appealed, the Criminal Division of the Court of Cassation dismissed the applicants’ appeals on points of law.
The court stated that the applicants should have known at the time that they were likely to be convicted for calling for a boycott. The applicants’ actions were a form of “militant” expression that concerned a matter of public interest.
However, while incitement to discrimination, together with calls to violence and hatred, are a limit that “should never be overstepped in exercising freedom of expression,” incitement to differential treatment is not necessarily the same. The court stated that the applicants had not been convicted of making racist or antisemitic remarks, or of inciting hatred or violence.
Because the actions of the applicants involved freedom of expression in a matter of public interest, the court found that the applicants’ conviction was “not based on relevant and sufficient grounds.” The court ordered France to pay each of the eleven applicants 7,380 euros for both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. France is further ordered to pay 20,000 euros jointly to all of the applicants for costs and expenses.