12:13, May 13 254 0 theguardian.com

2020-05-13 12:13:03
French court scraps olive farmer's conviction for helping migrants cross border

A French court has scrapped all charges against an olive farmer who helped migrants enter the country illegally, the final chapter in a groundbreaking case that defined so-called “crimes of solidarity”.

Cedric Herrou, who helped about 200 migrants cross the border from Italy into southern France, was given a four-month suspended sentence in August 2017.

He had brought the destitute migrants home and set up a camp for them. He was also convicted of sheltering some 50 Eritreans in a disused railway building.

France’s constitutional council later said Herrou’s actions were not a crime under the “principle of fraternity” as enshrined in France’s motto: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. The council, which evaluates the validity of French laws, ruled that people cannot be prosecuted for “crimes of solidarity”.

In December 2018, the Cour de Cassation – France’s court of final appeal – overturned Herrou’s conviction and sent the case back to the appeals court in the city of Lyon, which on Wednesday ruled all the charges were void.

“Reason and the law has triumphed,” said Sabrina Goldman, a lawyer on the case. “Why focus on someone who did nothing but help? How can what he did be regarded as anything other than a humanitarian act?”

Amnesty International said the ruling would have implications throughout Europe for the criminalisation of “acts of solidarity”.

“Cedric Herrou did nothing wrong, he simply showed compassion towards people abandoned in dire conditions by European states,” Amnesty’s Rym Khadhraoui said in a statement. “Whilst it is a relief that Cedric Herrou’s ordeal is now over, he should never have been charged in the first place.”

French law should now be amended to ensure only people-smuggling, which entails a material benefit, is an offence, and not humanitarian assistance, Khadhraoui said.