As the Yellow Vests gear up for their tenth consecutive week of protests, dubbed “Act X” by the grassroots social movement, President Emmanuel Macron’s government appears to be raising the stakes of repression in an attempt to quell protests and chill French constitutional guarantees of free speech.
Such appeared to be the case after 28-year-old Frenchman, journalist and movement leader Hedi Martin was sentenced last week to six months’ imprisonment after publishing a Facebook event calling for the Yellow Vests (or Gilet Jaunes).
Described as possessing a “certain notoriety” by the president of the Criminal Court of Narbonne, Martin was arrested on January 3 in Port-La Nouvelle one day after calling for protesters to blockade the coastal town’s oil refinery and “stand up to the CRS” (the French acronym for the national police).
The punitive move appears intended to silence the popular dialogue surrounding the protest movement, which has already chalked up an impressive set of achievements while continuing to mobilize in the face of stepped-up police state tactics including the deployment of live ammunition-equipped semiautomatic Heckler & Koch G36 rifles.
According to WSWS, tribunal president Philippe Romanello lambasted the young organizer for his Facebook Live videos depicting his protest activities. Quoting his posts calling for French people to protest the brutal and heavy-handed tactics of the national police – which has included excessive use of teargas, flash-ball munitions, stun grenades and aggressive kettling tactics – the judge denounced the working-class activist for giving “the impression that you are at the center of information.”
While the six-month sentence handed down last Tuesday is itself draconian, state prosecutor Marie-Agnès Joly had actually demanded a two-year prison sentence along with a three-year ban from public protest activity while also conceding that his activity in and of itself did not constitute a violent criminal act.
“It’s not a matter of blaming him for carrying out an act (violence or public damage), but of participation in a violent movement,” she said.
In recent weeks, sectors of the French ruling class have called on the French president to pull out all the stops to liquidate the Yellow Vest protests.
Last week, former education minister under Jacques Chirac, Luc Ferry, demanded that French National Police be allowed to gun down protesters who attack police officers.
Describing protesters as “cunts,” the former minister said “when you see guys beating up an unfortunate policeman on the floor, that’s when they should use their weapons once and for all. That’s enough!”
The following Saturday, CRS officers were filmed bearing G36 assault rifles, which are a mainstay in the arsenals of NATO countries’ armed forces.
Meanwhile, the Macron center-right neoliberal government has plowed forward with a “grand national debate” launched this week in hopes to demobilize the Yellow Vests and address their laundry-list of social demands.
Pledging his hopes to “empower” poor and working-poor people who have found themselves in “economic circumstances,” President Macron stumbled by describing some protesters as “doing the right thing” while others were simply “screwing around” with the system.
His remark, delivered in pejorative and vulgar terms, immediately sparked a backlash from people and politicians on both the right and the left, according to sate-owned French news network France 24.
The enthusiasm of French participants in the Yellow Vest movement has shown little sign of abating, with protesters flooding social media with calls to turn out in large numbers in this weekend’s “Act X” mobilizations.
According to French newspaper The Local, one energized social network user has called for Yellow Vests to converge on the Champs-Elysées and ensure that this Saturday marks a new escalation of the surging protest movement, commenting:
“Act 10 is operation outnumbered! Come with at least 2 friends who have never been before. Try and be persuasive, tell them that everything will be ok, that they have to come and see it for themselves. If each and every one of us does that, next Saturday will be a turning point!”
— Verlaine (@__Verlaine__) January 12, 2019