SHARE
COPY LINK

RACISM

British football fans guilty over racism in Paris

A French court Tuesday gave suspended jail terms to four Chelsea football fans over a racist incident before a Champions League match in Paris and ordered them to pay the victim 10,000 euros ($10,400) in compensation.

British football fans guilty over racism in Paris
Photo: Screengrab - The Guardian/Paul Nolan

The men were seen in video footage that showed a black man being pushed back twice as he tried to board a Metro train full of fans of the English Premier League giants in February 2015 as they travelled to a game against Paris Saint Germain.

In the background, Chelsea fans can be heard chanting: “We are racist, we are racist and that's the way we like it.”

After a one-day trial, the court gave suspended one-year sentences to Richard Barklie, a 52-year-old former Northern Ireland policeman, and William Simpson, 27, neither of whom attended the trial in the French capital.

Joshua Parsons, 22, a former pupil of the elite Millfield school in England, now working in the building trade, and James Fairbairn, 25, a civil engineer, were given suspended prison terms of eight and six months respectively. Both men were in court.

The court ordered the men collectively to pay 10,000 euros to the victim, Souleymane Sylla, a commuter who was not attending the match.

After giving evidence, Parsons apologised to Sylla, a 35-year-old Frenchman of Mauritanian origin, but denied his actions had been racist.

Turning to the father of four at the Palais de Justice, Parsons said: “I am very sorry to Mr Sylla, but I was not racist in any way.”

The incident was recorded by a passenger and widely used in the British and French media.

Under French law, the men could have been jailed for up to seven years and fined 100,000 euros.

Banned from matches 

Barklie, Simpson and Parsons have already been banned from football stadiums in England over their role in the incident.

Barklie, the oldest of the accused, is seen pushing Sylla at least once in the video. The men were charged after they were identified in the video.

Parsons, wearing a three-piece grey suit, told the court he had been drinking in a Paris bar for five hours before the incident.

He admitted the atmosphere in the train had been “hot and hostile” but said the supporters had blocked entry to Sylla because the carriage was full, not because of his skin colour.

He claimed he had not even noticed that Sylla was black until he saw the video footage in the media after the incident.

Parsons also claimed that the chanting was in another carriage and the supporters doing it “could not even see Mr Sylla”.

He said he had had to quit his job and move from his home in Surrey, southeast England, to Cornwall hundreds of miles away to escape the media attention following the incident.

Fairbairn denied the prosecution's claim that during the incident he had made a gesture contrasting the colour of his skin with Sylla's.

“All I can say is that I did not do that,” he told the court, adding that he found the racist chanting “disgusting”.

Defence lawyer Caroline Toby said Fairbairn had been convicted because “he was in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Sylla told the court he had believed he was going to die in the incident and had been left traumatised afterwards, which had affected his work and his marriage.

“He has not been able to lead a normal life for 18 months,” Jim Michel-Gabriel told the court.

Dismissing claims his client was motivated by winning compensation, the lawyer added: “He wanted to appear before you today to regain his dignity.”

After the verdict, Sylla told the court: “Justice has been done.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

COURT

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.

SHOW COMMENTS