This is the face of civil disobedience, circa 2017. Cédric Herrou, a 37-year-old farmer from southeastern France, appeared in court yesterday in Nice for having illegally helped undocumented African migrants cross the Italian-French border. "I do it because it has to be done," Le Monde quotes him as saying.
An olive and egg farmer and pro-migrant activist, Herrou was arrested in October for setting up the squatting of a disused holiday village belonging to France's state-owned railway company SNCF for a group of more than 50 migrants from Eritrea. He had already been arrested two months before that for attempting to smuggle Eritreans by car from Italy, but that case was eventually dropped. To the presiding judge's surprise yesterday, the arrests didn't stop him. "Even if you condemn me, the problem will go on," he said in court. Herrou also explained that several migrants, including three minors, were currently staying at his farm and that about 30 other minors were staying with local residents.
The prosecutor Jean-Michel Prêtre denounced what he perceived as a "PR strategy" and suggested Herrou "had wanted the trial" to push forward his political agenda, Le Figaronotes. "It's not up to the justice system to change the law," Prêtre said. "It's not up to the justice system to give diplomatic lessons to this or that country." Under French law, Herrou faces up to five years in prison and 30,000 euros ($31,500) in fines, but the prosecutor called for an eight-month suspended sentence, with driving restrictions.
The decision isn't expected until Feb. 10, but the bearded farmer already gave an idea of how he would take whatever sanction comes his way: Before entering the courtroom yesterday, he told some 300 supporters gathered outside, "What I'm doing is not a sacrifice, it is an honor." Is this Herrou's real lesson? When the world's problems show up at your doorstep, you can send a message back out to the world — even if your own country doesn't have the answers.