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France18 June 2004

Concern that proposed anti-sexism law will curb freedom of expression

Reporters Without Borders said today a French government plan to impose prison sentences for new offences of expression of opinion as part of a law to combat sexism and homophobia was "a serious step backwards."

The measure, unveiled by prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on 8 June, makes defamation on grounds of sexual orientation and incitement to sexual discrimination punishable by up to a year in prison and a 45,000 euros fine.

"The measure curbs civil liberties in a way that conflicts with its laudable aim of protecting certain sectors of the population," the press freedom organisation said. "The definition of provocation and discrimination is vague and could lead to unjustified prosecutions. We note that the so-called Guigou law in 2000 abolished prison terms for media offences such as defamation and insults.

"New inequality is being created in the name of equal rights. Enough laws already punish defamation and insults. We are worried about the government’s tendency to keep amending the 1881 press law to curb freedom of expression in conflict with rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, which says freedom of expression covers not just news and topics but also opinions that the government or a sector of the population does not like.

"We are also extremely concerned at the extension to one year of the three-month time-limit for prosecuting such offences. Racism and incitement to hatred already carry a one-year limit and we fear that the three-month limit, which is one of the roots of press freedom in France, will gradually disappear. This series of measures is part of an insidious attack on freedom of expression," Reporters Without Borders said.

Prime minister Raffarin’s latest proposal would amend the 1881 press law to add new offences to existing ones relating to ethnic groups, nationality, race and religion. The cabinet will consider it later this month and parliament at the end of the year.

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