A mayor in northern France was handed a six-month suspended prison sentence on Tuesday for wrongly issuing parking fines to people helping migrants in the area.
Romain Bail, the right-wing mayor of Ouistreham on the Channel coast in Normandy, lodged 17 complaints for “very obstructive parking” on the street where he lives between November 2017 and March 2018.
However, “the police chief found the parking to be very clearly not dangerous,” judge Christophe Subts told the hearing before issuing the suspended jail term and a fine of 1,821 euros ($2,057).
Rights group Amnesty International last month accused French authorities of harassing, intimidating and even attacking migrant helpers in northern France “in a deliberate attempt to curtail acts of solidarity.”
The northern Channel coast has long been a magnet for refugees and migrants who gather there hoping to board trucks and ferries heading to Britain, leading to complaints from locals about the effect on business and the image of the area.
Local public prosecutor Carole Etienne accused 35-year-old Bail of “an excessive use of power” in a hearing last month.
A police report, which was read out in court, also said the mayor from France’s right-wing Les Republicains party had used offensive language towards migrants.
When police told him he was under investigation, he allegedly replied: “This is all because of negroes. This is a shit country, it’s no surprise the National Front is becoming more popular,” referring to France’s main far-right party.
The mayor told AFP on Tuesday he had not used the word “negro.”
France’s representative body for black charities, CRAN, said they had lodged a complaint about his “racist” language.
Ouistreham is a small port which has ferry services to Britain.
Amnesty said police “regularly” dished out parking fines to volunteers around the biggest port of Calais, where migrants trying to reach Britain remain after the so-called “Jungle” shanty town was destroyed in 2016.
“Police tried to prevent human rights defenders from distributing food in Calais, by intimidating and regularly ID checking them, and giving out large amounts of parking fines to vans and cars delivering food,” the group said in a report.
Bail has a previous conviction for forgery after he was found to have falsified an email in 2018.