Geneva - The escalating campaign in France of gagging, repressing, and intimidating pro-Palestinian voices and those critical of Israel entails a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly.

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor has monitored the intensification, over the past few days, of official and institutional repression against university students in France who are peacefully protesting against Israel’s genocidal war in the Gaza Strip. The French government has used various forms of intimidation to silence activists speaking out against the genocide, including the targeting of pro-Palestine political figures.

 

French police forcibly dispersed a student sit-in protest in the Sorbonne University square in Paris on 29 April, removingthe tents of students protesting the Israeli genocide against Palestinians in the Strip, which has been ongoing since 7 October 2023. The incident took place days after the suppression of similar protests at the Sciences Po (political science) research university in Paris, which resulted in the head of the greater Paris region cutting off the prestigiousuniversity’s funding.

 

Euro-Med Monitor has documented testimonies of Sorbonne University students, who report on a peaceful protest movement in solidarity with the Palestinians and to raise awareness of the genocide in Gaza. Police broke up their events by force and took down the tents, the students told Euro-Med Monitor, and dealt with many people in a shockingly violent manner, dragging them on the ground. The police removed 50 protesters from the campus, who were then taken away in groups with the assistance of security guards.

Videos reviewed by Euro-Med Monitor document two students being physically dragged and otherwise assaulted by French police officers. Notably, on the very same day, Sorbonne university administration closed its buildings during peaceful protests, while students chanted slogans such as "free Palestine" and another calling on university administration to condemn Israel.

The French police have tried to justify their shutting down of the Sorbonne University sit-in, saying that it was done at the request of the university administration, and have refused to comment on the scenes of police forces entering and encircling the tents set up by students and then forcibly pulling individuals from the tents and removing them from the campus.

 

Euro-Med Monitor warns of another form of repression and intimidation, evidenced by the summoning of Mathilde Panot—the head of a French leftist party and parliamentary faction—by the French police, on charges of “justifying terrorism”.

Panot insists that this is the first time in the modern history of France that the head of a parliamentary faction has been summoned “on such serious grounds” and has warned against the dangerous exploitation of justice with the aim of political repression and preventing public freedoms.

 

France Unbowed (LFI), Panot’s party, is currently the strongest left-wing political force in France, and criticised what it considers to be an erosion of the freedom of opinion and expression of those who condemn Israel’s “genocide”against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The party leader and former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon described the summonses of political figures critical of Israel as an unprecedented event in the history of French democracy, accusing the authorities of “protecting the genocide” taking place in the Strip.

 

The intimidation campaigns has also affected French activist of Palestinian origin, and candidate for the European Parliament, Rima Hassan. French police summoned Hassan because of her defense of Gaza, on charges of “justifying terrorism”.

Hassan expressed concern to French newspaper Le Mondeabout the climate surrounding active political voices in France on the issue of Palestine, condemning the political pressureaimed at compromising public freedoms and threatening the state of democracy, especially in the context of the European parliamentary elections scheduled for next June—a crucial political moment for the future of the French people.

 

The prosecution of Hassan on flimsy charges, in the midst of her election campaign, represents a blatant infringement ofher right to run and freedom of parliamentary elections, raising concerns about France’s increasing criminalisation of efforts to spread awareness about Israeli violations in Gaza.

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor emphasises that the measures taken by French authorities to suppress protests and public opinions critical of Israel violate France’s international, domestic, and regional legal obligations, including articles of the EU Charter on freedom of expression and opinion, in particular Article 11. This Article states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, and that this right includes the freedom to hold opinions and receive and transmit information and ideas, without interference from public authority and regardless of borders. The French authorities’ measures also contradict Article 12 on freedom of assembly, which states that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Euro-Med Monitor calls on the French government to respectpro-Palestinian voices and protesters and stop its campaign of persecution against them. The French government mustensure the full protection of their civil rights, public freedoms,and the right to peaceful demonstration.