The three members were sentenced to six months in prison, while the organisation itself was fined €75 000 by a court in the Hautes-Alpes town of Gap.
During their operation, they caught and handed over four illegal migrants to authorities. Despite that, the defendants were prosecuted for “activities carried out under conditions likely to create confusion in the minds of the public with the exercise of a public function”.
Clément Gandelin (known as Galant), 24, president of Génération Identitaire, Romain Espino, 26, organiser and spokesman, and former organiser Damien Lefèvre (known as Rieu), 29, also received hefty fines of €2 000 each.
The court claimed that the sentence was handed down because of the “extremely serious nature” of the offence as well as the large “disturbance of public order”.
The operation launched by the Identitarians on the Col de l’Échelle, a crossing point for many illegals in the Hautes-Alpes, on April 21, 2018, saw at least a hundred volunteers dressed in blue jackets forming a “symbolic border”.
Rieu, who has 50 000 followers on a verified Twitter account, denounced the harsh sentence, saying that the prosecutors had “decided to persecute young Frenchmen who dare to prove symbolically and peacefully that defending our borders is possible.” He also requested donations via a Tipeee account.
Pierre-Vincent Lambert, the lawyer for the defendants, said they would appeal the decision. “My clients are extremely determined.” He also believes that the court’s decision was based on a false legal argument.
“It is necessarily so, since my clients have been convicted of an offense that is not characterized. They are accused of having exercised ‘an activity likely to create confusion in the minds of the public with the exercise of a public office’.
“In other words, my clients pretended that they were police or gendarmes, which is strictly inaccurate. The action was explicitly labeled ‘Identity Generation’. From pick-ups to the helicopter to the banners brandished during the operation, the words ‘Defend Europe’ appeared everywhere,” Lambert pointed out.
The reasoning that the judges adopted was following some kind of an expanded interpretation of the offense, Lambert explained. “They considered that the assumption that my clients ‘had the intention’ [sic] to pretend to be agents of public authority, could not be ruled out.
“And it did not matter [to the court] that none of the people mentioned in the case – neither the borders activists and nor the migrants in particular – thought for a moment that they were policemen or gendarmes.”
According to Lambert, this was a political decision. “Otherwise, the court would not have bothered to pronounce the annulation of the civil and political rights of my clients for 5 years. Nobody has been fooled,” he said. The Indentitarians were targeted to stop them from voting or standing for an election.
The day after his conviction with two other activists to six months in prison, Rieu confided in Valeurs Actuelles that this verdict would not alter their determination. “We will continue our fight against those who impose on us an undesirable African immigration. We are all the more determined because we know the majority of French people are with us.
“It is not us who say so, but the FIFG, which, in a 2018 survey for the JDD, showed that 64 percent of French people did not consider it desirable to receive additional immigrants.
Comment ne pas douter de l’impartialité de la justice quand des jeunes sont condamnés à de la prison ferme pour avoir mené une action PACIFIQUE ?!
Soutien à ces militants, qui ne demandaient que l’application de la loi et la protection de nos frontières ! https://t.co/gqJfiWZ91T
— Nicolas Bay (@NicolasBay_) August 30, 2019
After the Gap Criminal Court sentenced the three leaders, several members of the National Rally responded to this sanction, reported Europe 1. For them, this conviction is the symbol of the bias of French justice.
“How can we not doubt the impartiality of justice when young people are sentenced to prison for carrying out a peaceful action?” protested Nicolas Bay, member of the executive of the RN party. “These activists, who only demanded the application of the law and the protection of our borders, should be supported,” he added.
The spokesman of the RN, Sébastien Chenu, went even further in his condemnation on Twitter: “If the death penalty still existed, Damien Rieu would be sent to the scaffold with such justice!” he argued.
The head of the list of the National Rally for Europe, Jordan Bardella said a double standard prevails in France. “To demand the application of the law, to be a young person who defends his country and his people, means prison in France in 2019?
“At the same time the worst criminals enjoy a staggering laxity” he continued, saying it was “very disturbing”.
Thierry Mariani, recent defector of the Republicans, drew a parallel between the Identitarians and an open-border activist Cédric Herrou. The latter is known to have helped migrants enter illegally into France. He received only a four-month suspended prison sentence before this decision was also finally annulled on appeal.
En 1ère instance:
Cédric Herrou,aide à l’entrée illégale de migrants:4 mois de prison avec sursis (annulé depuis en Cassation)
Jeunes de #DefendEurope,action symbolique et pacifique de défense des frontières:6 mois de prison ferme
Mais,la justice n’est pas politique en France…. pic.twitter.com/9oEVYPdXqS
— Thierry MARIANI (@ThierryMARIANI) August 29, 2019
Génération Identitaire was established in France in 2012, It now operates in several European countries, including Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom.