France condemned for Mitterrand book ban

19th May 2004, Comments 0 comments

STRASBOURG, May 18 (AFP) - The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday condemned France for banning the publication in 1996 of a book about former president Francois Mitterrand's efforts to conceal his battle with cancer.

STRASBOURG, May 18 (AFP) - The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday condemned France for banning the publication in 1996 of a book about former president Francois Mitterrand's efforts to conceal his battle with cancer.

In "Le Grand Secret" (The Big Secret), Mitterrand's former private physician Claude Gubler revealed the former Socialist leader had lied about his health for years, hinting he was unable to perform his duties by the end of his second term.

The book, which sparked debate in France about the public's right to know if the head of state suffered from serious illnesses, was released just a week after Mitterrand's death in January 1996.

It was removed from store shelves after just one day on the market when a Paris court granted an emergency request from the family of the former president, who ruled from 1981 until 1994.

Nine months later, a full Paris court confirmed the interim ruling on the merits, saying Gubler had violated doctor-patient confidentiality by revealing details about Mitterrand's condition and ordering him to pay a fine.

The European court ruled the interim ban was valid, saying: "On a date so close in time to the president's death, the distribution of a book which, in breach of the rules of medical secrecy, presented him as having knowingly lied to the French people could only have deepened his family's grief."

But it rejected the confirmation of the ban nine months later, saying it "constituted interference" with the publisher Plon's right to freedom of expression in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"By that time keeping the ban on distribution of 'Le Grand Secret' in force no longer met a 'pressing social need' and was therefore disproportionate," the court said, awarding Plon nearly EUR 26,500 (USD 31,700) in damages.

"Once medical confidentiality had been breached and the books author had been found to have committed criminal and disciplinary offenses, the passage of time had to be taken into account" by the French courts with respect to the legality of the ban, the court said.

The ruling, handed down by a "small panel" of seven judges, can be appealed by either France or the publishing house. The case would then be reviewed by a "Grand Chamber" panel of five judges.

Gubler, convicted in July 1996 of violating medical secrecy laws and handed a four-month suspended sentence, was struck from France's medical register in December 2000.

© AFP

Subject: French news

 

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