In its June 11 ruling in the case Baldassi vs. France, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned France for curtailing pro-Palestinian demonstrators’ right to engage in a boycotting campaign against Israeli products in a French Carrefour supermarket.
The high judges characterized the action as a legitimate exercise of their freedom of expression protected under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
On Sept. 26, 2009, and May 22, 2010, pro-Palestinian activists took part in two actions at the Illzach Carrefour, eastern France, calling for the boycotting of Israeli products. To rally the store’s clients to their cause, they used different tactics.
Wearing “Boycott Israel” t-shirts, the activists filled shopping carts with Israeli products, occupied store aisles, and repeatedly shouted “Israel murderer, Carrefour accomplice.” Clients were asked to sign a petition inviting the supermarket to stop selling items imported from Israel.
Further, the activists distributed tracts stating, “You can constrain Israel to respect human rights. Boycott products imported from Israel. … Buying Israeli products means legitimizing crimes in Gaza. …” To identify the products targeted by the boycott, the flyers also listed the names of Israeli trademarks and products. Apparently, Carrefour store management did not manifest any opposition and allowed the boycotting events to ensue.
The French authorities filed minor penal charges for provocation and incitement of discrimination against a category of persons: the producers of goods made in Israel. At the trial level, the cases were dismissed. In two appellate decisions dated Nov. 27, 2013, the Colmar Court of Appeal found the activists guilty and rejected their free speech defenses under Article 10 of the Convention. On Oct. 20, 2015, the French Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) confirmed the judgments.
On appeal, the ECHR overruled the 2015 decision and severely criticized France for undermining the activists’ individual right to freedom of expression and curbing their legitimate and non-violent boycotting campaign against another country’s products in privately owned businesses on the basis of alleged human right violations.
Across Europe, anti-CCP activists have been following this case very closely. The ECHR has afforded free speech protection to the modus operandi on non-violent boycotting activism.
All supermarkets, chain stores, and business owners selling Chinese goods will encounter a serious dilemma when confronted with the organization of actions in the heart of their establishments by anti-CCP activists calling for the boycotting of Chinese products in their fight against China’s human right abuses and persecution of Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, Christian minorities, and Hong Kong protesters.
In the case before the ECHR, it appeared that in not prohibiting or stopping the two boycotting actions, Carrefour, while ensuring the safety of clients and activists alike, tacitly acquiesced to the holding of such events and provided a neutral platform for this legitimate and non-violent exercise of free speech for the public at large. In doing so, Carrefour, like any other business owner, would be required, moving forward, to open their premises to all boycotting activists on a non-discriminatory basis and ensure their security and personal integrity.
Conversely, if equal access were not granted, corporations and management could potentially be subjected to civil and criminal prosecution on the grounds of discrimination. Do businesses want to face such exposure and negative publicity across the press and social media on these highly sensitive issues? Naturally, such politically charged events will also raise issues of liability and insurable risks in case of property damage, bodily injury, or even death.
In the midst of extensive social unrest and ethnic conflicts in the inner cities, France has remained silent, but must quickly assess the widespread ramifications of the June 11 ruling and make a choice, within three months, whether to refer the matter to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR for reconsideration.
After the growing tensions in India, Hong Kong, and mainland China, anti-CCP activists will be rightfully tempted to step up calls for the boycotting of Chinese products throughout Europe. For many, their actions are more than justified. Their families have been persecuted, imprisoned, and even tortured by the Chinese authorities.
Certain member states even fear that this ECHR case law may spur further instability and shield a whole spectrum of extreme left- and right-wing activists and demonstrators against prosecution. The French government is aware that this decision raises serious public order concerns, which will weigh heavily in its final determination to file an appeal to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR before Sept. 11.
China is facing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, an exacerbating economic slowdown, increasing unemployment, and the risk of opening a new front with the European Union in the escalating global trade war with the United States after a knock-out loss in the landmark WTO dispute with the E.U. recently for its failure to establish its market-economy status.
As a major violator of human rights, it’s obvious the Chinese regime cannot neglect the adverse impact of anti-CCP boycott campaigns in businesses across Europe being posted throughout social media and the press. In such a hostile climate, China will most likely seek the support of the French authorities to limit and even reverse the controversial June 11 ECHR decision to protect its commercial interests and safeguard its highly polished image in mainstream media and Western society.
Randy Yaloz is a Paris-based American and French attorney and litigator, and founder and managing partner of Euro Legal Counsel Group.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.