French court condemns magazine for racist portrayal of black lawmaker

PARIS – A Paris court ruled on Wednesday that a conservative French magazine was guilty under French hate speech laws of making racist slurs on a fictional story it published last year describing a lawmaker as an African slave who was auctioned off in the 18th century.

Valeurs Actuelles magazine sparked outrage in France after publishing a fictional seven-page account of Danièle Obono, 41, a French lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party, black and born in the former French colony of Gabon .

The play was accompanied by images – including one of Ms Obono with chains around her neck – drawing condemnation from the government and politicians from all political parties. Ms. Obono called this “an insult to my history, to my family and ancestral histories, to the history of slavery.”

The editor of Valeurs Actuelles, Erik Monjalous, accused of discriminatory public insults, was fined 1,500 euros, or about 1,750 dollars. The magazine’s editor, Geoffroy Lejeune, and the author of the article, Laurent Jullien, both accused of being complicit in this offense, were fined the same amount. All three were ordered to pay Ms. Obono 5,000 euros in damages.

“Justice is done”, Ms. Obono, who represents Paris in the lower house of Parliament, said on twitter. “We are here, we are here to stay and we will not leave. And in the end, we will win.

The publication of the article comes as France has a growing and often difficult record with its colonial and slave trading past. Many say the painful story is too often ignored; figures on the right and the far right complain that it is too often exaggerated.

The Valeurs Actuelles article, published last August, was part of a series of short stories, written by an anonymous author, which depicts contemporary political figures in earlier historical periods.

Ms. Obono’s account, which takes place in the 18th century, placed her in a small village in present-day Chad, where she said she was initially thrilled to “reconnect with her roots” before becoming disillusioned by ” the patriarchal order “of the village. The story continued by describing her as captured and falling into the inter-African slave trade, before being bought by a French cleric who frees her and takes her to a monastery in France to recover from the experience.

Faced with a storm of criticism, the magazine’s editors apologized but denied that the story and the images were racist. Instead, they said, the story was a satire meant to remind readers that slavery in Africa was not only perpetrated by Europeans, but Africans as well.

French law criminalizes certain forms of hate speech, including public insult on ethnic or religious grounds. The Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation several days after the article was published and a trial was held in June.

The French League of Human Rights, which participated in the trial, welcomed the decision in a declaration Wednesday, declaring that “if fiction is to be free, it cannot serve as a fig leaf for deliberately racist and insulting speech.”

Valeurs Actuelles, a small generalist news magazine created in 1966, has often been accused of offensive or inflammatory coverage. In May, he caused a sensation by publishing an anonymous letter, allegedly written by active troops in the French army, which warned of an impending “civil war” fueled by Islamism and identity politics.

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