'Victim' of anti-Semitic French hoax gets probation

26th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

CERGY-PONTOISE, France, July 26 (AFP) - A French woman who lied about being the victim of a vicious anti-Semitic attack -a claim that sparked nationwide outrage - was on Monday handed a four-month suspended sentence.

CERGY-PONTOISE, France, July 26 (AFP) - A French woman who lied about being the victim of a vicious anti-Semitic attack -a claim that sparked nationwide outrage - was on Monday handed a four-month suspended sentence.

Marie-Leonie Leblanc, 23, was also given two years' probation and ordered to get psychiatric treatment for "reporting an imaginary crime" after falsely telling police she had been assaulted on a suburban Paris train on July 9.

The criminal court in Cergy-Pontoise northwest of Paris also ordered Leblanc to pay a symbolic one euro in damages to the French national railway SNCF in what presiding judge Jean Idrac called a "warning sentence".

The woman initially told police that a gang of six Arab and black youths had slashed her clothes, cut a lock of her hair and drawn swastikas on her stomach after mistaking her for a Jew.

She also said the youths had tipped over her baby carriage with her 13-month-old daughter inside.

"I wanted my parents to take care of me," Leblanc told the court. "I was aware of the lie that I had told but I didn't think it would go so far in terms of the media coverage, that the media would become aware of the incident."

The reported attack shocked the country, prompting condemnation from across the political spectrum and a government pledge to reinforce efforts to crack down on racist and anti-Semitic violence, which has been on the rise this year.

But the lie quickly unravelled when no witnesses came forward to back her story and closed-circuit video cameras in the station where Leblanc said the youths had left the train did not show any trace of the supposed gang.

Leblanc admitted to fabricating the entire incident four days after filing her initial complaint, saying she had ripped her own clothes and drawn the swastikas on her own stomach with her boyfriend's help.

Her partner was not charged in connection with the incident.

Leblanc, who is described as psychologically fragile, later apologised for her lies, specifically asking for the forgiveness of President Jacques Chirac and junior victims' rights minister Nicole Guedj, who came to her support.

Islamic leaders denounced the rush to judgment after Leblanc's allegations, saying the nation was too eager to put the blame on disaffected Arab youths.

"Everyone has made a fool of themselves by shouting that this was an act of anti-Semitism instead of waiting for more information," said Kamel Kabtane, president of the French Council for the Muslim Religion in the southern Rhone-Alpes region.

"The Muslim community cannot accept being the constant butt (of accusations), dragged through the mud at the pettiest incident."

France is home to Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities, at 600,000 and five million respectively.

Leblanc's mother Genevieve said before the court hearing that her daughter was to begin therapy on Monday.

"She did this so people would take an interest in her. It was an SOS from a young woman who was depressed, who didn't know what else to do.

Then she got caught up in it as it spun out of control," she said.

"She wants this to be over, to start getting better so she can resume a normal life. She had understood that when you call out for help, you don't cry wolf," her mother said.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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