June 24, 2014

In this blog post I would like to talk about two things: legal systems in general and Manuel Valls’ influence on Dieudonné’s trial.

This week I am delving into the jurisprudence behind the Dieudonné Affair, a feat which is proving rather complicated. I have studied legal cases in the past, but never have I delved this deep into a field so foreign. While I am not a law student, I often can find a satisfactory amount of information from research into law and judicial hearings – but mostly because these decisions have some instrumental impact on life in America. In France, then, I am met with two feats: studying in a foreign field, and placing the judicial outcomes in a foreign context.

Conseil d'Etat, the highest administrative court in France, located inside the Royal Palace next to the Louvre.

Conseil d’Etat, the highest administrative court in France, located inside the Royal Palace next to the Louvre.

France has two principle laws which relate to the Dieudonné trial, and then a superseding attachment to the European Convention on Human Rights. The first French law is the Loi du 29 juillet 1881 which rules over the rights of the press, and in general the freedom of public expression. This law has been updated many times since its enactment, under the 3rd Republic, by new legislation as well as court rulings by the Conseil d’Etat. A much more recent law, from 13 juillet 1990, also known as the the Gayssot Law, has a more specific aim: “the suppression of all racist, anti-Semitic, or xenophobic acts.” France already had a number of protections against racism, adhering to the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the entire International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This Gayssot Law importantly added a defense against Negationism, or Historical Revisionism of crimes against humanity (at first as defined by the Nuremburg trials but updated to include other travesties). France, as an adherent to the European Convention on Human Rights, must also follow the decisions by the European Court on Human Rights, which has consistently ruled in favor of strong freedom of expression. It is through this process that I could see France’s decision to ban Dieudonné’s performances revoked – however Dieudonné has not appealed to the ECtHR.

This isn’t a new debate at all, so I have a lot of work ahead of me in ciphering through all the legal precedents. What is new about this debate, however, is how quickly the process went through the legal system. This is due in large part to who was pushing the trial – the Interior Minister at the time and current Prime Minister, Manuel Valls. Dieudonné had been in Valls’ crosshairs since the “Université d’Eté” or National Convention of the Socialist Party, in which he declared his wish to ban his “racist speech.” The major events started when a video emerged on December 19th, 2013 in which Dieudonné said of Jewish radio-host Patrick Cohen, “you see him, if the winds change, I’m not sure he will have enough time to pack his bags. Me, when I hear him speak, Patrick Cohen, I say to myself, you see, the gas chambers…(at first silence in the crowd, then over some outbursts of laughter)…too bad.”

Manuel Valls, the old Minister of Interior and current Prime Minister of France. His action in the Affair led to the banning of Dieudonné's performances, but also gave wide media coverage to the performer.

Manuel Valls, the old Minister of Interior and current Prime Minister of France. His action in the Affair led to the banning of Dieudonné’s performances, but also gave wide media coverage to the performer.

A week later, Valls sent out a communique stating that he was searching all legal paths to ban his performances, and then spent a week explaining this position to news reporters. Another week later, and only four days before Dieudonné was to start his national tour, he sent out a “circular” to all the Prefects and Mayors around France, letting them know that they had the legal ground to ban these performances. As the Minister of Interior, he was the head of the National Police, and since a relatively recent change in laws, the Gendarmerie – both of which have the duty of securing public order. Valls pressed down on the idea of “public order,” in a more abstract sense than the usual meaning of riots and physical violence – pointing to the fact that Dieudonné’s “attacks on human dignity” comprised troubles to public order.

In the week that followed multiple mayors banned his performances under this law, but the Prefect of Nantes only did so officially two days before the actual show. The next day Dieudonné’s lawyers filed an appeal to the Administrative Tribunal, to be heard on the day on his performance. The Tribunal heard the arguments and decided quickly that the reasons supported by Valls did not actually fit the definition of “public order.” However, the Conseil d’Etat was called together that afternoon and gave an official decision to ban the shows, only a couple hours before the time of the show to begin. In such an important case such as the freedom of expression, it is bizarre that such a high court was able to convene and give a ruling in such a short fashion. This is most certainly due to the high profile support Manuel Valls gave to the case, which some even accuse as dangerously helpful to Dieudonné’s notoriety.

It would be very interesting for this case to go the European Court on Human Rights. However, I am also doubtful this will happen, as this would open up Dieudonné to more public scrutiny of his finances, of which it has been recently revealed that he might be committing fraud.

In brief, I hope to meet with lawyers in the week that follows to elucidate more the legal precedent for cases such as these, as well as its history of freedom of expression. In fact, I have found that most books on this subject are comparative with the United States because our approaches are so different. Finally, I also hope to get a better understanding of France’s adherence to the European Court of Human Rights – a supranational court whose rulings have the force of law in France.

Daniel Stublen