Since losing her battle last spring against Emmanuel Macron for the French presidency, Marine Le Pen, member of parliament and leader of the right-wing party, National Rally (formerly the National Front), has not gone quietly into the night. This week, the French state ordered her to undergo mandatory psychological evaluation to assess the state of her mental health, following her Twitter posts of images showcasing destruction and fatalities caused by the remnants of ISIS.
This is not the first time that French and European authorities have attacked Le Pen. Earlier this year, she was stripped of her prosecutorial immunity in the European Parliament and charged by the French state with crimes that could theoretically result in prison time, all for posting similar pictures.
This time, however, the French state has gone even further in an evermore frightening direction with their persecution of Le Pen, by not just punishing her actions, by but seemingly trying to influence her mind and discredit her by branding her as mentality unstable to the public.
A court ordered psychological exam is fundamentally coercive and intentionally intimidating. Documents received by Le Pen from the French judiciary imply the testing is in part to detect if she is mentally ill. The French state is using its power to try and classify her as insane for having a dissenting opinion, and Le Pen seeing the absurd nature of this situation has declined to cooperate, saying on Twitter, “It’s crazy. This regime is really starting to be frightening.”
The foundational document of modern France, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789 states in Article XI:
“The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, except to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.”
The French state has violated this sacred pact forged by the nation in the early days of the Revolution when the despotism of the Ancient Regime was abolished. Yet some entities, such as the French state itself, does not see this provision as infringed, and believe this is a case where the abuse of this liberty can be punished by law.
The law, in this case, being legislation from 2007 that bans publishing images of violence by anyone who is a non-professional journalist. This is not a philosophically justifiable position for any state that claims to preside over a free nation. The state may only act to punish a citizen who uses their right to free expression when used to directly incite immediate violence against another. Who better to explain this than France’s own Baron de Montesquieu in his Spirit of the Laws?
“Words do not constitute an overt act; they remain only in idea. When considered by themselves, they have generally no determinate signification; for this depends on the tone in which they are uttered. It often happens that in repeating the same words they have not the same meaning; this depends on their connection with other things, and sometimes more is signified by silence than by any expression whatever. Since there can be nothing so equivocal and ambiguous as all this, how is it possible to convert it into a crime of high treason?…Overt acts do not happen every day; they are exposed to the eye of the public; and a false charge with regard to matters of fact may be easily detected. Words carried into action assume the nature of that action. Thus a man who goes into a public market-place to incite the subject to revolt incurs the guilt of high treason, because the words are joined to the action, and partake of its nature. It is not the words that are punished, but an action in which words are employed. They do not become criminal, but when they are annexed to a criminal action: everything is confounded if words are construed into a capital crime, instead of considering them only as a mark of that crime.”
France has continued the attack on the rights it once helped forge and should be a reminder to us all that as American President Ronald Reagan once proclaimed, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction”. Those of us outside France, in freer nations, cannot take for granted the rights we possess. If liberty can die in the land that was once its cradle, it can be extinguished anywhere.
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