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French pro-migrant farmer requests early termination of probation

Cedric Herrou stands outside the court in Aix-en-Provence, France in August 2017. BORIS HORVAT / AFP

French farmer and pro-migrant activist Cédric Herrou on Thursday asked the Appeals Court in Aix-en-Provence to terminate his nearly year-old probation.

Herrou, who lives in southern France’s Roya Valley near the Italian border, told AFP upon arrival at the appeals court that he was “requesting the early termination” of his probation.

The olive farmer has been on probation since last July, when he was arrested at a Cannes train station for helping asylum seekers cross the border into France.

He has denounced his probation as “restricting” his freedom and his movements. His probation terms require him to check in at the local police station every two weeks, and forbid him from leaving the country.

The pro-migrant farmer complained that he was unable to go to the Italian city of Ventimiglia, “the closest city” to his rural home.

“I have 40 police officers stationed near my property 24/7,” he said. The 38-year-old claimed he had a bailiff’s report certifying that some officers had illegally stayed on his land for his month and half, and that he planned to file a complaint on the matter.

“When I get home at night, the police systematically stop us. When there are friends or family coming to the house, they always pass through a police checkpoint.”

Legal battles

Herrou’s lawyer, Bruno Rebstock, cited a recent court decision as another reason behind the request for an early termination of probation. France’s Constitutional Council, citing the “principle of fraternity”, ruled in July that providing humanitarian aid or “permissible help” to an illegal immigrant was not a punishable offense.

Permissible help would mean "providing legal advice or food, lodging or medical care... or all other help that aims to preserve dignity or physical well-being".

The farmer was placed on probation in July 2017 after accompanying more than 150 migrants as they sought to apply for asylum in the southern city of Cannes. He was then charged for facilitating the illegal entry of an undocumented immigrant, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of 30,000 euros.

The following month, the court in Aix-en-Provence handed him a four-month suspended jail term for housing illegal immigrants in a disused holiday home belonging to the state-owned SNCF rail company. The court also threw out his appeal against a 3,000-euro fine ordered by a Nice court a few months prior, and reversed a not-guilty verdict on illegal occupation charges. Herrou was ordered to pay the SNCF 1,000 euros in damages with interest.

Prosecutors had called for an eight-month suspended prison sentence.