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"Briançon Seven" Activists found guilty of helping migrants enter France illegally

People wait outside the courthouse in Gap, France, on November 8

People wait outside the courthouse in Gap, France, on November 8 in support of a group of seven activists accused of helping migrants cross the border from Italy into France last April

(Jean-Pierre Clatot / AFP)

A French court has found seven activists, including two Swiss nationals, guilty of helping migrants enter France illegally from Italy last spring. 

On Thursday, the Gap Criminal Court in southeast France handed two French defendants, who had previous convictions, 12-month sentences, of which four months are to be carried out behind bars. 

The other five - two French nationals, one Italian, one Swiss and one Belgian-Swiss with no criminal records - were each given six-month suspended sentences. They have ten days to appeal. 

Around 100 people gathered outside the courthouse on Thursday to support the activists, aged between 22 and 52, and known as the "Briançon Seven". 

They were among a group of 100 mostly French and Italian activists, who took part in a demonstration march on April 22 from Clavière in Italy to Briançon in France, crossing the Montgenèvre pass at the Italian border with around 20 illegal migrants. 

The prosecutor’s office accused the seven activists of facilitating the entry into France of the migrants and of forcing their way through a police roadblock. 

At the hearing, the defendants had denied knowingly helping the migrants to cross the border during the demonstration. 

The initial trial, scheduled for May, was postponed until the French Constitutional Council was able to rule on the "crime of solidarity". It acknowledged that the “crime of solidarity” was not in line with the French Constitution and declared that the principle of “fraternité” protects the freedom to help others for humanitarian purposes, regardless of immigration status. However, help for “entry” into the country should remain illegal.  

Keystone SDA/sb

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