They had been confused by surveillance cameras. Two students aged 20 and 22 were sentenced, Friday, February 17, to one hundred and forty hours of community service by the Besançon court for the "racist" degradation of a statue of Victor Hugo. They risk three months in prison if this sentence is not carried out.
The prosecution had requested twelve months in prison with suspended probation, community service and an additional five-year ineligibility sentence against the two men, who faced up to ten years in prison for "serious degradation, in a meeting, to the detriment of a good of public utility, and with a racist purpose".
"It is a less severe sentence than the requisitions of the public prosecutor which demonstrates that the court succeeded in judging this case by moving away a little from the passions it aroused to really stick to the facts, to the personalities of these two young people without a criminal record, "said the lawyer for one of the two men, Marjorie Weiermann.
The statue being restored
At the end of November 2022, the two history students, former members of the National Assembly, had covered the face of the statue with white paint before affixing a sign to it bearing the words "White Power" ("white power") and a Celtic cross . The statue, the work of Senegalese artist Ousmane Sow, was being restored and a controversy had developed over the color, considered too dark by some, of the writer's face, although the restoration was not completed.
"At the initiative of local nationalists, the statue of Victor Hugo (…) has been restored and now sports a beautiful white color, very French, very Besançon, very 19th century", announced shortly after a message of claim, posted on the website of the La Cocarde Étudiante association. The environmental mayor of Besançon, Anne Vignot, said she was "extremely disappointed" by the court's decision, insisting on the racist nature of the offense. "To express an ideology as serious as this is just unsustainable," she said.
The Maison des Potes, which had brought a civil action, regretted the penalties lower than the requisitions for the two students. "The sentences handed down are much lower than those requested by the prosecution, but it is to be hoped that the young supremacists will learn the lesson of a public trial and a suspended prison sentence," said Samuel Thomas, one of the leaders of the anti-racist association. We hope this will encourage them to fall into line and withdraw from far-right organizations. We are not sure that they understood the message. »