France: Migrant rights defender Cédric Herrou finally released!

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Paris-Geneva – The Court of Cassation issued yesterday the definitive acquittal of migrant rights defender Cédric Herrou, following five years of judicial harassment. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) and France’s Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH) welcome this decision but believe that Mr Herrou should never have been prosecuted for his acts of solidarity with migrants in the Roya Valley.

Since 2016, Cédric Herrou had been the target of relentless judicial actions for his humanitarian work helping migrants at the French-Italian border, in the Roya valley in France’s Alpes-Maritimes department.

Under constant surveillance, the Roya Valley has been the target of a major police operation since 2016 to prevent the passage and presence of migrants and those who help them. Cédric Herrou has become the symbol of those denouncing the illegal refoulement of migrants, particularly minors, from the Alpes-Maritimes to Italy. On 13 May 2020, the Lyon Court of Appeal acquitted him of "aiding the illegal entry, movement and residence of foreigners in France," but the Public Prosecutor’s Office appealed his acquittal on 22 May 2020. The Court of Cassation finally rejected the appeal, making his acquittal final yesterday, 31 March 2021.

The farmer and defender of migrants’ rights was arrested and placed in police custody for the first time on 11 August 2016. This was followed by a series of proceedings, including several convictions for "aiding the entry, movement and illegal residence of a foreigner in France," on 10 February and 8 August 2017.

On 12 September 2017, further proceedings were brought against him. He was arrested and placed in police custody with an asylum seeker who was living with him, for "violence" and "sequestration," following a complaint lodged by a human trafficker denounced by Mr. Herrou at the end of July and sentenced to eight months in prison.

As of 10 August 2018, the judicial supervision of Cédric Herrou was relaxed. On 12 December 2018, the Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation partially annulled Herrou’s conviction after the decision of the Constitutional Council of 6 July 2018, which marks the consecration of the "principle of fraternity" neutralising the "offence of solidarity" concerning the assistance to the stay of a foreigner in an illegal situation. However, the judicial persecution did not stop until 31 March 2021. After nearly five years of prosecution, he has now been definitively released.

The Observatory and LDH hope that this decision of the Court of Cassation will put an end to the harassment of all those who defend migrants’ rights in France, and that this legal endorsement of the "principle of solidarity" will become a reality, recognising the legitimacy of defending migrants’ rights.

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