France: Landmark trial must show that solidarity is not a crime

A man who gave a car ride to three exhausted asylum-seekers – one of them a teenager – in 2016, must be acquitted of “the crime of solidarity”, said Amnesty International ahead of a landmark appeal hearing tomorrow.

Pierre-Alain Mannoni’s conviction for “facilitation of irregular stay and circulation” for helping two Eritrean women and a child who had just crossed into France, was overturned by The Court of Cassation in 2018. This decision followed the recognition of the principle of “fraternité” by France’s highest court – the Constitutional Council – which led to a review of French legislation. Today’s new trial will crucially test if the amended law and the courts protect the principle of “fraternité” and ensure that no one is punished simply for helping others for humanitarian purposes.

“Pierre-Alain Mannoni has been dragged through the courts for more than three years for a simple act of decency. But the significance of today’s trial goes far beyond clearing his name – we hope it will also send a clear message to French authorities that acts of solidarity should never be treated as crimes,” said Maria Serrano, Amnesty International’s Senior Europe Campaigner.

“While Pierre-Alain Mannoni could still face up to five years in jail, we are confident that he will be acquitted. We call on all French authorities to stop misusing anti-smuggling legislation to target and prosecute people who do not hesitate in assisting those in need before finding out their immigration status.”

Pierre-Alain Mannoni is an engineer from Nice. In October 2016, he decided to drive three exhausted and injured Eritrean women, who had crossed into France through the mountains on foot, to his home, so that they could rest. He was stopped by the French gendarmerie in La Turbie and charged with “facilitation of irregular stay and circulation”.

An Appeal court in Lyon will review the case on 15 January in light of the new legislation, and will reveal how the principle of fraternity is interpreted by the courts.
In September 2018, French law was amended following France Constitutional Council’s ruling, declaring that the principle of “fraternité” protects the freedom to help others for humanitarian purposes, regardless of immigration status.

Amnesty International considers that the law is still flawed and does not prevent from prosecuting acts of solidarity, allowing the judiciary’s interpretation of a person’s motives to help refugees and migrants.

Amnesty International opposes the criminalization of solidarity and considers that the criminal justice should never be used to punish acts of solidarity.

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