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France

French gay marriage opponent's jail sentence sparks protests

media The May demonstration against gay marriage after which Bernard-Busse was arrested the first time Reuters/Stephane Mahe

Opponents of gay marriage in France have launched a campaign against the jailing of a young demonstrator who fled police after an illegal protest on Paris’s Champs Elysées and gave a false identity when caught.

On Friuday evening about 500 people demonstrated in Paris and about 200 in Bordeaux against a sentence of two months in prison and two months suspended passed on Nicolas Bernard-Busse passed by a Paris court on Wednesday.

They chanted slogans against the court’s decision and an alleged “socialist dictatorship”.

Bordeaux demonstration on Friday evening

Bernard-Busse’s parents have appealed to his supporters not to “cede to violence” while calling the punishment “disproportionate”.

A Facebook page describing him as a “political prisoner” has been created and a petition demanding his immediate release launched.

Right-wing politicians have also criticised the verdict as showing bias against opponents of same-sex marriage, with former budget minister Valérie Pécresse declaring herself “revolted” by it.

The 23-year-old student was arrested on Sunday 16 June following a demonstration outside the studios of the M6 TV station, where President François Hollande was appearing in a broadcast.

Bernard-Busse was among a group of about 150 people who went on to hold an unauthorised protest on the Champs Elysées.

That was broken up by police but a 23 people were arrested for refusing to disperse.

One of them, whom police say seemed to be the leader, fled the scene, running into a pizzeria, where a table was overturned and glasses broken before he was finally caught.

On being arrested he gave a false identity and refused to have his fingerprints taken or to give a DNA sample.

He was Bernard-Busse, the only one of those arrested to be finally charged.

The court found him not guilty of wilful damage to the pizzeria’s property, requested by the restaurant’s owner, but found him guilty of rébellion - essentially resisting arrest - and for providing an “imaginary” identity.

As well as the prison term, which, exceptionally, was ordered to start immediately, he was fined 1,000 euros.

Two factors seem to have influenced the judgement.

  • Firstly, the defendant was found to have a provocative attitude towards the magistrates, as he was deemed to have had towards the police.
  • Secondly, he already had form - In May, after another anti-gay marriage demonstration, Bernard-Busse was given a 200-euro suspended fine for failing to disperse during another unauthorised protest on the Champs-Elysées, blocking traffic and providing a false identity to police.

Prosecutors appealed against the leniency of that sentence.

Le Monde newspaper has published details of the laws under which Bernard-Busse was charged:

  • Giving police a false identity was made a crime to prevent suspects concealing their criminal records but is used by police when people give them a fake name;
  • Taking DNA samples was introduced for suspects in sex-crime cases by a Socialist government in 1998, extended to other crimes in 2001 and to petty crimes, including resisting the police, in 2003, when Nicolas Sarkozy was interior minister;
  • Rébellion is a charge often used against protesters who resist or avoid arrest, as is outrage, which can describe impertinence towards or, more usually, a physical attack on a police officer;
  • The number of people whose DNA is now in French police records has risen from 3,224 in 2002 to more than two million, of whom 80 per cent have been declared innocent;
  • Precedents include a man arrested at a demonstration against the Innocence of Muslims film was jailed for three months after being found guilty of having a cosh on him and anti-airport protesters in western France jailed for up to six months after being found guilty of fighting the police.

Although the gay marriage law has now been passed, protests continue, if somewhat smaller than before.

Another demonstration against it is due to take place on Sunday.

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