French #MeToo movement founder fined 20,000 euros for defamation

Journalist Sandra Muller, whose tweet triggered #MeToo in France, had accused a TV executive of sexual harassment.

    French journalist Sandra Muller slammed the verdict at a new conference in Paris [Thibault Camus/AP]
    French journalist Sandra Muller slammed the verdict at a new conference in Paris [Thibault Camus/AP]

    A Paris court has ordered the woman behind France's answer to the #MeToo campaign to pay thousands of euros in damages for defaming the man she had accused of sexual harassment in a viral Twitter post.

    Sandra Muller, a French journalist who coined the viral hashtag #balancetonporc ("expose your pig") to describe the alleged harassment, slammed the verdict on Wednesday as "incomprehensible" and urged women to continue to speak out.

    In a closely watched civil suit, the court ruled against Muller and ordered her to pay 15,000 euros ($16,500) in damages to French TV executive Eric Brion, who she had accused of making sexually lewd remarks at a party, according to the ruling seen by the AFP news agency.

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    She was also ordered to pay 5,000 euros ($5,473) in legal fees to Brion, to delete the tweet, and to publish the court ruling on her Twitter account and in two press outlets.

    Her lawyer Francis Szpiner told reporters they would appeal the decision, denouncing the ruling as "out of its time" and a "regression".

    Muller expressed dismay over the ruling and the size of the damages, but insisted she did not regret coining the hashtag.

    "The decision is heavy, it is punitive, it is disappointing and, for me, incomprehensible," she told reporters. "But I had the courage to act, using means that were not great."

    'Fear must not win'

    Muller, who works for a French media industry publication, said she has had trouble finding freelance work since rising to prominence.

    "I am stamped with #balancetonporc and not as a journalist," she said. "It is difficult for me now. But I don't regret it. I was carried by a movement of liberating women."

    "Fear must not win and I will continue to fight every day," she added.

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    Muller started the viral hashtag #balancetonporc on October 13, 2017, calling on French women to name and shame men in an echo of the #MeToo movement that began in response to allegations that toppled US movie producer Harvey Weinstein

    The US-based French journalist accused Brion of humiliating her with sexual remarks at a function in the town of Cannes in 2012.

    She claimed Brion had said: "You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night." She ended the post with the hashtag #balancetonporc.

    Brion, a media consultant and former head of TV channel Equidia, acknowledged making inappropriate remarks, for which he had apologised by text message the day after.

    But he argued that Muller's post wrongly portrayed him as a sex offender and the publicity around the incident had ruined his career.

    The ruling said she had lacked caution in her tweets by using the word "pig" and implying a link to the context of the Weinstein case.

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    "She passed the admissible limits of freedom of expression and her comments degenerated into a personal attack," it said.

    The post led to an outpouring of tales of harassment and assault, which were hailed as helping to confront a culture of permissiveness in France towards unwanted advances.

    But there has also been controversy, with a group of prominent French women led by film star Catherine Deneuve complaining that the campaign had become "puritanical" and defending the right of men to "hit on" women.

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    SOURCE: AFP news agency