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France 23 December 2004

Law against homophobia : an attack on freedom of expression

The Senate on 22 December finally passed legislation creating a council against discrimination and for equality (HALDE). Organisations fighting sexism and homophobia will be able to bring complaints for insult or defamation if they took place within the last five years. The new law, that carries penalties of prison sentences, brings legislation into line with that on racism and anti-Semitism. Reporters Without Borders believes this new law is in contradiction with the law of 15 June 2000 abolishing prison sentences for most press offences.

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Law creates a new press offence 8 december 2004

Reporters Without Borders condemned new legislation passed by the National Assembly on 7-8 December 2004, which it said would seriously damage free expression.

The setting up of a council against discrimination provided new grounds for handing down prison sentences for press offences, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

The government had engaged in an effective sleight of hand to confound critics of its initial draft designed to punish homophobic remarks, in particular the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights. The Justice Minister withdrew it but kept the core of the legislation in the form of amendments.

Unless deputies realised the seriousness of the situation at the second reading before the Senate on 22 December, the new legislation would conflict with the 15 June 2000 law that abolished prison sentences for most press offences, it warned.

It would also run counter to the movement that has developed since in the same spirit, under EU guidance, prompting countries to pass legislation according greater priority to the need for freedom of expression. Could France even turn into a counter-example, putting a brake on this development or even sending it into reverse?

The legislation would also run counter to the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights whose decisions are based more on the principle of free expression (as in the first paragraph of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights) than on restrictions to the principle (outlined in the second paragraph).

While sharing the determination of the government and of democrats generally to fight all forms of discrimination, Reporters Without Borders reaffirms that it is through freedom of expression and debate and not through repression, that a society makes progress towards tolerance and respect for individual dignity.

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