Is stealing a presidential portrait a prison-worthy crime? Or a laudable act of civil disobedience?
کد خبر: ۹۳۴۶۹۱
تاریخ انتشار: ۱۳ آبان ۱۳۹۸ - ۰۹:۳۴ 04 November 2019

Is stealing a presidential portrait a prison-worthy crime? Or a laudable act of civil disobedience?

Courts around France are grappling with this question in response to an unusual new environmental movement that's aiming to push French President Emmanuel Macron to do more to fight climate change.

One by one, environmental activists around France have removed Macron's official portrait from more than 130 town halls, from the foothills of the Alps to the Left Bank of Paris.

Their point? Macron may portray himself on the global stage as Mr Climate, but activists say the centrist, business-friendly President isn't acting boldly enough to change his own country's planet-damaging ways. They're notably angry that France has lagged on its international commitments to increase use of renewable energy and reduce emissions. France remains well behind its European neighbours in its use of renewable energy.

The portrait-removers have been facing trials around the country, with some fined, others acquitted. An appeals trial of the first court case was held last week in Lyon with the ruling still pending, and a new trial is scheduled later this month.

Climate activists are holding one final march in opposition to a Melbourne mining conference.

The protesters are diverse: one is a maths teacher, while another works for SNCF, the national rail company; another is an organic vegetable farmer.

At one recent trial, defendant Helene Lacroix-Baudrion argued that the portrait removal was "an act aimed at taking care of life and our environment."

"We just want Macron, who holds himself up as a climate defender, to respect France's commitments under the COP21 (the 2015 UN climate agreement signed in Paris)," she said.

An expert working for the UN climate change agency testified as a defence witness at the trial, and climate activists gathered for a protest outside the courthouse.

The trials themselves have turned into public debates not just on civil disobedience given France's rich tradition of protest, but also on the environment.

France is divided over how, and how fast, to cut emissions. Macron argues that he's doing more than most, and has stood up to US President Donald Trump on the need for countries and corporations to cooperate.

However, Macron backed down on a fuel tax last year meant to help wean France off fossil fuels after the tax triggered the yellow vest protest movement and months of violent protests.

So activists started targeting Macron's portraits, symbolically dethroning him to demand action.

Several brought stolen portraits to a march at the Group of Seven summit Macron hosted in Biarritz in August to try to embarrass him at the global event. They brandished the pictures upside down, arguing that his climate policy is the opposite of what the planet needs.

French law says the acts can be considered "group theft," which can be punishable by several years in prison. No court seems willing to go as far as locking up the portrait-removers, but the verdicts have been mixed.

Six portrait-removers were convicted in the first trial, in Bourg-en-Bresse in June, but five were only given suspended fines. The sixth was fined €250 ($400) because he already had a criminal record.

The court ruling said it wasn't clear how removing the portraits would "save humanity from ecological disaster" and argued that "other avenues were open to the defendants to defend their cause."

The protesters themselves, from the Non-Violent Action COP21 activist group, accepted the ruling, but the prosecutor appealed, seeking tougher punishment.

In September, a Lyon court acquitted two activists, ruling that they had a "legitimate motive" and that "climate upheaval is a constant fact that seriously affects the future of humanity."

"Faced with the lack of respect by the state" for its climate commitments, the ruling reads, "the citizens' means of expression in a democratic country cannot be reduced to the votes cast in elections."

A few weeks later, a Paris court fined eight activists €500 euros ($807) each.

Nine more trials are scheduled all over France in coming months.

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