A European court on June 11, Thursday, overturned a criminal conviction against 11 activists of the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement by a court in France. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously found the French court’s verdict against the activists of the BDS group, Collectif Palestine 68, “unfounded”, with conviction not based on “relevant or sufficient grounds”. The ECHR ordered the French government to pay each of the 11 defendants EUR 27,830 (USD 31,150) as compensation, as well as to cover their legal costs.
The European court’s ruling further stated that the freedom of speech and expression of the BDS activists had been violated by the French court. Freedom of speech and expression is one of the articles (article 10) included in the European Convention of Human Rights. It also said that boycotts are a protected form of protest.
The 11 BDS activists are of French, Moroccan and Afghan origin. They were found guilty of ‘incitement to economic discrimination’ by a French court after they staged a pro-BDS protest outside a supermarket in the town of Illzach in eastern France in 2009. The activists had called for a boycott of Israeli products being sold in the supermarket. They had distributed leaflets with information about Israeli-origin products and urged the shoppers to not buy them in support of the Palestinian cause.
They were convicted by the French court under Article 7 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination. Their convictions were upheld by France’s highest appeals court in 2015. But on Thursday, the ECHR said that article 7 did not pertain to economic discrimination. In a summary statement, the European court said, “A boycott is primarily a means of expressing a protest. Therefore, a call for a boycott, which is aimed at communicating protest opinions while calling for specific protest actions, is in principle covered by the protection set out in Article 10 of the Convention.”
The BDS activists’ protest had reportedly been staged after the deadly invasion on the blockaded Gaza strip was launched by Israel in 2009.
Based on the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel was launched by Palestinians in 2005 with the objective of diplomatic, political, economic and cultural isolation of Israel in order to force it to abandon its occupation of Palestine. The BDS movement has been repeatedly targeted by Israel and its allies in different countries as “illegal and anti-semitic.”