French protesters demand trial for Jewish woman's killer

Crowds have gathered in Paris and other French cities to denounce a ruling by France’s highest court that the killer of Jewish woman was not criminally responsible and therefore could not go on trial

France Antisemitism
France Antisemitism

Protesters in Paris and other French cities on Sunday denounced a ruling by France’s highest court that the killer of Jewish woman Sarah Halimi was not criminally responsible and therefore could not go on trial.

Thousands of people filled Trocadero Plaza in Paris, in front of the Eiffel Tower, answering a call by Jewish associations and groups fighting antisemitism who say that justice has not been done. Other protests took place in Marseille, Lyon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux and elsewhere.

The announcement that the killer would not be sent to trial sparked outrage among the French and international Jewish community.

Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, died in 2017 after being pushed out of the window of her Paris apartment by her neighbor, Kobili Traoré, who allegedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic). Traoré admitted pushing her.

The ruling from the Court of Cassation, issued this month, said there was enough evidence to show the act had antisemitic motives. But the court said a person who committed a crime while in a “delirious state” cannot be sent to trial — even if that state was caused by the habitual use of illegal drugs. Traoré used to smoke heavy quantities of cannabis.

“According to unanimous opinions of different psychiatry experts, that man was presenting at the time of the facts a severe delirious state,” the court said.

Under French law, people cannot be held criminally responsible for actions committed while fully losing their judgment or self-control due to a psychiatric disorder. Traoré has been in a psychiatric hospital since Halimi’s death.

Robert Ejnes, the executive director of CRIF, French Jewish umbrella group, said he came to Trocadero Plaza to support Halimi’s relatives.

“I think they are like the French people – they’re angry and don’t understand at all,” he said.

“Here are people who trust France’s government, France’s justice system, and who are confronted with this totally unfair decision. The killer is recognized as a killer, is recognized as being antisemitic but he won’t be tried. It’s simply unacceptable and it’s very hard for these people to even grieve,” he said.

Ilaï Laymond, a 19-year-old law student protesting in Paris, said “as a Jew but also as a French citizen, this court ruling affects me profoundly because it’s inexplicable.”

“With this decision ... we feel abandoned," he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, called for a change in French law.

“Deciding to take narcotics and then ‘going mad’ should, not in my view, remove your criminal responsibility,” Macron told the Le Figaro newspaper. He also expressed his support for the victim's family.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti tweeted Sunday that he will present a bill in May to plug a legal vacuum in French law regarding the consequences of the voluntary use of drugs.

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AP Journalist Alexandre Turnbull contributed to the story.

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