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Big solidarity rally marks trial of activist who disrupted Israel-France basketball game

Some 200 people turned out in the eastern French city of Chalon on Friday to show support for an activist standing trial for running on to the court during a match between Israel’s Maccabi Electra and the home team last month.

Campagne BDS France, one of several groups calling for the rally, said that the activist, Layli, was fined 1,000 euros, suspended unless he commits another offense within five years, and banned from attending sporting events for six months. Prosecutors had asked for a fine of 3,000 euros.

Sports is politics

Before entering the superior court in Chalon, Layli told the local newspaper, Le Journal de Saône et Loire that he had planned to unfurl his flag in the stands, but when he saw the heavy security presence, and the harassment and arrest of other activists, he decided to take his protest on to the basketball court.

French media had reported that local police at the game were taking orders from agents of Israel’s Mossad

Asked by Le Journal how he defended disrupting an “apolitical” sporting match, Layli responded that sports and politics are connected and one only had to look at the uproar within Europe over the hosting of UEFA’s Euro 2012 tournament in Ukraine, which some European leaders boycotted due to human rights abuses in the host country. Layli also cited protests by activists for Tibet against the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Part of a pattern of prosecutions of activists

Olivia Zémor, an organizer with CAPJPO-Europalestine, recounted at the rally some of Layli’s defense lawyer’s arguments: for the first 24 hours after his arrest, police had tried to pin a charge of inciting racial hatred on Layli but dropped it for lack of evidence.

According to Zémor, the defense lawyer also pointed out that the prosecutor’s pursuit of Layli was unprecedented and that in other cases of much more significant disruptions of sporting events – Layli’s lasted seconds – no charges had been brought. Moreover, the Chalon basketball club did not join the complaint against Layli as a civil party, and the prosecution was entirely the initative of the state prosecutor.

At the rally after his trial, Layli thanked supporters and called for solidarity with other activists whose trials are pending in different parts of France for boycott actions.

Collectif 69, another Palestine solidarity group, had called for donations for legal defense and organized car-pools for those attending the rally in Chalon.

French authorities have systematically prosecuted activists for such things as calling on shoppers to boycott Israeli goods, and French President François Hollande has declared such boycotts “illegal.”. However in several high profile cases, courts have disagreed and acquitted activists, ruling that calling for the boycott of a state is not discriminatory.

Mounting protests against UEFA tournaments in Israel

Layli’s actions highlights increasing protests against UEFA’s 2013 men’s under-21 and 2015 women’s under-19 tournaments both scheduled to be held in Israel. Palestinian star footballer and former political prisoner Mahmoud Sarsak has led calls on UEFA to strip Israel of the tournaments.

Among the groups expressing support for Layli was the French Jewish Union for Peace (UJFP), which said, “faced with Israel’s apartheid policies, the UJFP supports Layli during his 9 November trial” for what UJFP called a “peaceful” and “highly symbolic” act. UJFP said that the action was part of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign and condemned “the presence on our our national soil of foreign security forces, the Mossad, who abused this courageous activist along with the French police.”

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