French court convicts six arsonists of attack on Romani people
The New York Times reports that a French court has found six men guilty of planning an attack on a Romani encampment near Paris. The arson was committed in March in the Parisian suburbs of Bobigny and Clichy-sous-Bois.
The attack was motivated by deceptive allegations disseminated through social media that the Romani people had kidnapped several children. A court in Bobigny found that the men had committed "participation in a group created with the aim of committing violence", which is the regulation of the French Criminal Code that punishes those who prepare to commit violent acts, even if they never carry them out.
The armed assailants assaulted the Romani people in March, setting fire to their cars and dwellings. Four of them have now been sentenced to either five or six months in prison.
Two of the men were given suspended five-month sentences. Yael Scemama, a lawyer for the anti-racist Licra organization, which represented the Romani victims, welcomed the verdict.
The six men, who range in age from 23 to 27, denied to the court that they had intentionally attacked the Romani encampment in Bobigny. They claimed to have been travelling to Bobigny from their native town of Chelles, which is nearby, in order to ascertain whether the rumors about kidnapping were true.
The police, however, had already resolutely refuted the kidnapping rumors. "The report of children being kidnapped by somebody driving a van is absolutely unsubstantiated. No case of any such kidnapping has been recorded," the French Police tweeted.
Despite the French authorities assuring the public that no abductions or attempted kidnappings had been reported to the police, the untrue allegations sparked a wave of hatred and violence against Romani people on social media. Benjamin Griveaux, who was a spokesperson for the French Government at the time, called the violence "unacceptable" and said the case had "demonstrated the absolute necessity of combating fake news."
"The dissemination of such hearsay through social media leads to violence and the stigmatization of communities," Griveaux said at the time, calling the process of spreading false allegations "repulsive". The French Parliament has begun to discuss a law to combat hate speech committed online through the Internet in general and social media in particular.
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