Ex-minister cleared of racism on appeal

An appeals court overturned former French interior minister Brice Hortefeux's racism conviction on Thursday, a legal victory for one of President Nicolas Sarkozy's closest political allies.

Ex-minister cleared of racism on appeal
MEDEF (File)

Last year, Hortefeux was convicted of mocking the Arab origins of a young member of Sarkozy’s ruling party, in an incident that was caught on video and became a viral video hit and an embarrassment to the government.

But, on Thursday, the Paris appeals court found fault with the way in which the country’s best known anti-racist organisation had been assigned as a civil plaintiff in the case, and threw out the case — a de facto aquittal.

The group, the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples (MRAP), insisted that the court had not directly questioned the racism charge, and warned that it plans to appeal the ruling in a higher court.

Hortefeux was interior minister at the time of the incident, but he has since stood down to work as a political adviser to Sarkozy, and is expected to play a leading role in his leader’s campaign for re-election next year.

At the summer 2009 UMP party conference, Hortefeux posed for a picture with a party member of North African descent and joked: “You always need one. When there’s one, that’s OK. It’s when there’s a lot of them you have problems.”

Most of the tens of thousands of viewers who saw the footage interpreted the remark as a slight on the young man’s origins, but the minister insisted he had been affectionately joking about his coming from the predominantly agricultural Auvergne region.

The target of the comment, 22-year-old Amine Benalia-Brouch, initially defended Hortefeux, insisting he had not been insulted, but later left the UMP and said he had been pressured into making his statement by party officials.


French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

A French court has ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all its documents relating to efforts to combat racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts
Photo: Alastair Pike | AFP

Six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of “long-term and persistent” failures in blocking hateful comments from the site.

The Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fighting homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as “condoning crimes against humanity”.

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

The ruling was welcomed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), one of the groups that had taken the social media giant to court.

“Twitter will finally have to take responsibility, stop equivocating and put ethics before profit and international expansion,” the UEJF said in a statement on its website.

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence, or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination.

Like other social media businesses it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content.

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.

French prosecutors on Tuesday said they have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter aimed at members of the country’s national football team.

The comments, notably targeting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week.

France has also been having a wider public debate over how to balance the right to free speech with preventing hate speech, in the wake of the controversial case of a teenager known as Mila.

The 18-year-old sparked a furore last year when her videos, criticising Islam in vulgar terms, went viral on social media.

Thirteen people are on trial accused of subjecting her to such vicious harassment that she was forced to leave school and was placed under police protection.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, left-wing critics say her original remarks amounted to hate speech against Muslims.