Protesters in Paris and other French cities have 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, on Sunday answering a call by Jewish associations and groups fighting anti-Semitism 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 neighbour, 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 anti-Semitic 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.
— European Jewish Congress (@eurojewcong) April 25, 2021
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, a 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 recognised as a killer, is recognised as being anti-Semitic but he won’t be tried. It’s simply unacceptable and it’s very hard for these people to even grieve,” he said.
The MP who leads Macron’s Republic on the Move party, Christophe Castaner, was also in attendance at Sunday’s gathering, alongside former first lady Carla Bruni, wife of Nicolas Sarkozy, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who said the city would soon name a street in Halimi’s memory.
“It will also be a way of doing her justice,” Hidalgo said.
“The clamour has risen and hope has returned. That hope is all of you here,” Halimi’s brother William Attal told the crowd gathered at the Trocadero esplanade.
In Israel, hundreds of people gathered outside the French embassy in Tel Aviv, waving French and Israeli flags and placards with slogans such as “Shame on France”.
Israeli lawmakers from across the political spectrum attended, with Diaspora Minister Omer Yankelevitch calling the court’s decision “absurd, scandalous and dangerous”.
“From Tel Aviv to Paris, the Jewish people, in Israel and the entire world, stand in solidarity with the Halimi family and the Jewish community of France,” she said.
Jewish groups say the court ruling has made Jews less safe in France, while lawyers representing Halimi’s family have said they will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
French Jews have been repeatedly targeted in recent years, most notably in 2012, when a gunman shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in the southern city of Toulouse.
In 2015, a man who identified as a sympathiser of ISIL (ISIS) gunned down four people at a Jewish supermarket in Paris.
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.