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France 24 November 2004

Government slammed for manoeuvres in fight against homophobia

After opposing a bill designed to punish homophobic statements in June, Reporters Without Borders is today just as firm in its condemnation of government-backed amendments that have just been voted by the senate in the debate on the creation a national anti-discrimination council.

Reporters Without Borders deplores the government’s political conjuring trick. The government announced the withdrawal of its bill after receiving an unequivocally critical evaluation from the national consultative commission on human rights.

But, twisting the meaning of the evaluation and using a very swift, adroit manoeuvre, the government resubmitted the essence of the bill, with just a few improvements, in the amendments proposed to the senate on 23 November. There was just one positive element: the period of limitation for bringing a prosecution was reduced from a year to three months.

If parliament does not reverse this vote, the new law will run counter to the June 2000 law eliminating prison sentences for most press offences. It will also run counter to a similar tendency that has since developed with European Union encouragement under which member states are passing laws that show more respect for press freedom. Will France now be a counter-example, bringing all this to a halt or even starting a backward move?

The law would also run counter to the case law established by the European Court of Human Rights, whose decisions are based more on the principle of free expression (as enshrined in the first paragraph of article 10 of the European Convention on Human rights) that on the restrictions to this principle (which are the subject of the second paragraph).

While sharing the government’s concern to combat all forms of discrimination, Reporters Without Borders stresses that free expression and debate, and not repression, are the way for a society to advance towards tolerance and respect for everyone’s dignity.

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