French interior minister convicted of racial insult

4th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

A court convicted France's Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux on Friday of making a racial insult about a young man of Arab origin.

The Paris court fined Hortefeux 750 euros (900 dollars) and ordered him to pay 2,000 euros in damages for comments he made last September about a young activist of the ruling right-wing UMP party of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"When there's one, it's OK. It's when there are a lot of them that there are problems," Hortefeux, 52, said in a filmed encounter in September.

He was apparently referring to a young man of Algerian parentage -- one of France's large community of north African origin -- with whom he was getting ready to pose for a photo.

The film sparked accusations of racism and calls for the minister's resignation when it was posted on Le Monde newspaper's website.

The court on Friday did not hand down a criminal conviction since it judged that Hortefeux had not intended the comments to be heard in public, but found him guilty of a lesser offence of racial insult.

The damages were awarded to MRAP, an anti-racism group that brought the case against him.

One of Hortefeux's lawyers, Nicolas Benoit, said the minister would "immediately" appeal the conviction.

Hortefeux had denied that his comments referred to the man's race and the young party activist himself told Le Monde that the minister's comments had been taken out of context.

Sarkozy also defended Hortefeux in the controversy.

© 2010 AFP

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