Following Public Outcry, France Sets Legal Age of Consent

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – Lawmakers in France are in the process of formalizing the age of sexual consent after public outcry over two cases involving preteens.

Demonstrators Gather to Protect Sexual Abuse and Harassment in France. Photo Courtesy of Claude Paris.

France’s government has proposed new laws, one of which makes the age of sexual consent fifteen years. The legislation will be one of several measures taken by the government to combat sexual harassment and violence in the country.

The current law in France criminalizes sex with children under fifteen. However, prosecutors in those cases must prove that the sex was by force.

New measures also include increased prison sentences for perpetrators. There will  be on-the-spot street fines issued for sexual harassment. Repeat offenders will face increasing fines.

The bill will also present sanctions for online harassment.

Additionally, underage rape victims will be able to report sexual violence until they are 48 years old, ten years longer than the current limit.

Prison sentences for rape involving penetration will  increase from the current sentence of five years to ten years.

The push for new laws has gained momentum recently in France due to two high-profile cases involving eleven-year-old girls. The perpetrators in those cases, who were 28 and 30, were acquitted, causing an uproar in France and prompted the government to discuss tightening laws aimed toward combating sexual violence.

Marlene Schiappa, French Equality Minister, said that “we want to fix an age in the law below which it’s always forbidden to have sex with children, with young girls. Below which it’s always considered as a rape.”

President Macron supports the bills and hopes that the new laws ensure that “women are not afraid to be outside.”

In polls conducted in the country, ninety-two percent surveyed support extension of the statute of limitations, ninety percent support on-the-spot street fines and sixty-nine percent support setting the age of consent at fifteen years of age.

It is crucial that the laws of the republic make it clear that it is not allowed to harass or intimidate women…whether in the public space, on public transport or online” Schiappa said. “There can be no lawless zones.”

Age of consent laws vary internationally. Neighboring European countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Russia set the age of consent at 16, whereas in Germany, Italy and Hungary it is 14.

Fore more information, please see:

BBC News – France to set Legal age of Sexual Consent at 15 – 6 March 2018

CNN – France to set age of Sexual Consent at 15 After Rape Outcry – 6 March 2018

Newsweek – France to set age of Sexual Consent at 15, Paving way for Rape Charges – 6 March 2018

NPR – France Moves to Make 15 Legal age of Consent for sex – 6 March 2018

USA Today – French Bull Puts 15 as age of Consent for sex, Includes on-the-spot Fines for Harassment – 21 March 2018

Russian Media Boycotts Parliament Following Sexual Harassment Decision

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Several Russian media outlets have boycotted Parliament in Russia after sexual misconduct charges were dropped against Leonid Slutsky, head of its international affairs committee.

Darya Zhuk, left, and Farida Rustamova, both reporters in Russia, accused Leonid Slutsky of sexual misconduct. Photo courtesy of Vasily Maximov.

On Thursday, March 22nd, Slutsky was cleared of sexual misconduct charges by the ethics commission in Russia. Since then, nearly all of Russia’s independent news agencies have decided to boycott coverage of the Duma, the lower chamber of Russian Parliament.

Accusations against Slutsky began in February 2018, when several female journalists accused Slutsky of making unwelcome sexual advances towards them.

Farida Rustamova of BBC Russia, said that Slutsky told her to leave her fiancé and “ran his hand, the flat of his palm, up against my nether region.”

Another accuser, Yekaterina Kotrikadze, deputy editor-in-chief at a Russian television station, said that in 2011 Slutsky pushed her against a wall and attempted to kiss her.

“He asked me to come without a camera,” said Kotrikadze. “He brought me into his office, locked the door and tried to pin me against the wall and somehow kiss and touch me. I got away and ran.”

Slutsky denied the allegations and mocked his accusers. In a Facebook post dated February 23rd, Slutsky stated that “attempts to make Slutsky into a Russian Harvey Weinstein look like a cheap and crude provocation … and are bound to fail.”

The ethics commission investigating the accusations released a verdict on March 22nd sating that it had “not found any violations of behavioral norms.”

The commission also took aim at the timing of the women’s allegations, suggesting that they were an attempt to undermine the presidential election in Russia that week.

One member of Parliament, Oksana Pushkina, did side with the journalists and pledged to seek adoption of a legal framework for the prosecution of sexual harassment.

Despite the committee’s decision, the accusations against Slutsky have ushered in the #MeToo movement in Russia. The boycott that has ensued in response to the allegations against Slutsky is the first of its kind in Russia.

Kotrikadze is not surprised by the ethics commission’s decision, but is optimistic about the media’s response to the accusations.

“I really think that the reaction of my colleagues, and lots of Russian media outlets, is the best thing I could imagine. This is the first time in Russian history that the journalists have not obeyed the decision of the state.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Russian Media Boycott Country’s Parliament Over Sexual Harassment Claims – 22 March 2018

CNN – Media Outlets Boycott Russian Parliament Over Sexual Harassment Scandal – 23 March 2018

The New Yorker – Russia Finally Gets its #MeToo Movement – 23 March 2018

The New York Times – Russian News Outlets Boycott Parliament After Harassment Decision – 22 March 2018

U.S. News and World Report – Russian Lawmaker Cleared of Sexual Harassment Accusations – 21 March 2018

‘Punish a Muslim Day’ Letters Spark Fear in England

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – A national counterterrorism investigation is underway after several people received letters targeting Muslims in England.

Muslims Pray Outside A Mosque in England. Photo Courtesy of Andrew Testa.

According to authorities, residents of at least six communities in England have received anonymous letters in the mail urging them to commit acts of violence against Muslims on April 3rd. The sender seems to be targeting communities with large Muslim populations.

The letters arrived in plain white envelopes and designate April 3rd as “Punish A Muslim Day.” The letters express anger at what the author considers to be lax immigration policies in Europe and Muslim immigrants in particular.

The letters go on to provide a chart indicating “points” to be awarded, for crimes committed against Muslims, with the number of points increasing as the violent acts escalate in nature. 25 points would be awarded for pulling a head scarf off of a woman. 500 points would be awarded for murdering a Muslim.

It is not known where the letters originated from or who is responsible for sending them. The country’s counterterrorism forces are investigating the letters. The North East Counter Terrorism Unit is coordinating the investigation and has indicated that the letters are presumed to be linked.

Iman Matta, the director of Tell Mama UK, an organization in the United Kingdom that tracks anti-Muslim activity, told reporters that the letters have “caused quite a lot of fear within the Muslim community. They are asking if they are safe, if their children are safe to play outdoors. We have told them to keep calm.”

There are approximately 4.1 million Muslims in England, comprising over 4 percent of the country’s population.

Attitudes towards Muslims in the country have worsened in recent years. In one survey, more than half of the respondents stated that they believe Islam poses a threat. A quarter of those surveyed call the religion “dangerous.”

Hate crimes against Muslims in England rose signficantly between the years 2015-2016, where 62,518 crimes were reported, and 2016-2017, where 80,393 crimes were reported, according to statistics. This represents a 29% increase.

Naz Shah, a member of parliament in Bradford West, one of the communities that received letters, said that the individuals sending the letters are “inciting violence against the Muslim community.” She went on to say that “we stand shoulder by shoulder, and stand side by side, because nothing will divide us.”

A police spokesperson for the North East Counter Terrorism Unit indicated that “anyone with concerns about a communication they may have received should contact their local police force.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – ‘Punish a Muslim day’ Letters Probed by Terror Police – 11 March 2018

Newsweek – ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ Game Spreads Across U.K. in Letters Urging People to Burn Mosques and rip off Hijabs – 12 March 2018

The New York Times – ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ Letters Rattle U.K. Communities – 11 March 2018

The Washington Post – Anonymous Letters in Britain Urge People to ‘Punish’ Muslims by Bombing Mosques, Nuking Mecca – 13 March 2018

Facebook Blocks Far-Right Group Britain First

ByJenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – In response to mounting pressure, Facebook has banned the group Britain First, a far-right Anti-Muslim group that was promoted by President Trump on Twitter last year.

Leaders and Supporters of Britain First March in London. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Leal-Olivas.

Facebook announced on Wednesday, March 7th that it had taken down several pages associated with the group due to their repeated violations of the social media network’s community standards.

In a statement, Facebook said: “We are an open platform for all ideas, and political speech goes to the heart of free expression. But political views can and should be expressed without hate. People can express robust and controversial opinions without needing to denigrate others on the basis of who they are.”

Britain First is estimated to have about 1,000 members. To spread its belief that Islam is destroying Britain, members have used tactics such as confronting Muslims on the street and in mosques.

In November 2017, President Trump amplified the group’s hate-mongering rhetoric by retweeting several of the group’s anti-Muslim videos, a first for a modern American president.

The President’s behavior was condemned by British Prime Minister Theresa May as well as human rights groups. He cancelled a trip to Britain in January 2018.

The anti-fascist organization called HOPE Not Hate reported that the Britain First Facebook page has over 2 million likes, making it one of the most-liked political Facebook pages, second only to the royal family.

Two leaders of the group, Paul Golding and Fayda Fransen, were recently convicted of religiously aggravated harassment hate crimes and given jail sentences. The two posted videos online of them harassing Muslims at their homes in 2017.

Facebook says that this decision has not been made lightly. The platform is intended to be an open forum for ideas and beliefs. However, “there are times when legitimate political speech crosses the line and becomes hate speech,” the company said.

The group was given several warnings that its content was violating Facebook’s standards regarding hate speech. When it did not comply with the requests, the page was removed. The group may not establish a replacement page.

Matthew Collins, head of research at HOPE Not Hate, called Facebook’s decision to remove the group’s page “long overdue…We are delighted that Facebook has finally faced up to its responsibility as a publishing platform and removed this hate-preaching organization.”

“I call on social media companies to show a stronger duty of care so that they can live up to their promise to be places that connect and unify, not divide or polarize,” said Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor.

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Facebook Bans Anti-Muslim Group Retweeted by Trump – 14 March 2018

USA Today – Why Facebook Banned anti-Muslim group Britain First – 14 March 2018

The New York Times – Facebook Blocks Britain First, a Far-Right Anti-Muslim Group Promoted by Trump – 14 March 2018

The New York Times – Anti-Muslim Extremists Retweeted by Trump Are Convicted of Hate Crimes – 8 March 2018

NBC News – Facebook Bans Britain First for Inciting ‘Animosity and Hatred’ Against Minorities – 14 March 2018

The Washington Post – Facebook Removes Home Page of Far-Right Group Britain First – 14 March 2018

Norway Plans to Ban Semi-Automatic Weapons

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

OSLO, Norway – Almost seven years after the last mass shooting in Norway, the country is making moves to ban semi-automatic weapons.

Flags and Flowers Adorn a Memorial Site Neat the 2011 Utoya Massacre in Norway. Photo courtesy of Lefteris Pitarakis.

If the new legislation is passed, semi-automatic weapons and other previously legal weapons will be reclassified as “military-style” and banned. Citizens would be required to surrender any semi-automatic weapons in their possession. Future sales would be prohibited.

The law has been in talks since 2011, when on July 22nd  Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people, mostly children, in a bombing and mass shooting on Utoya Island. There has not been a mass shooting in the country since then. However, the incident led the country to review existing laws and propose tightened ones.

A 2012 report by a commission formed in response to the Utoya massacre recommended a ban on semi-automatic weapons as one of its 31 recommendations to combat gun violence.

Øystein Mæland, Norway’s police chief, called for stricter laws pertaining to semi-automatic weapons after the attack.

The legislation comes at a time when gun violence is a considerable problem in the world, especially in the United States of America. Norway has 1.11 gun deaths per 100,000, compared to 10.54 per 100,000 in the United States.

Norway is one of many countries wishing to strengthen their gun laws. In Australia, 57,000 citizens recently surrendered firearms to the government during a gun amnesty in the country. With the recent high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, activists are calling for heightened measures to combat gun violence.

Norway already has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, requiring background checks and secure gun storage, among other things. Certain categories of guns are banned altogether.

The country has a high rate of gun ownership, but boasts low levels of gun violence, thanks in part to the strict gun laws in place. Most residents use them for hunting and outdoor sports.

The ban is planned to take effect in 2021, a decade after the mass shooting.

Petere Frlocih, a Conservative member of Parliament’s committee on judicial affairs, said “today it has become clear that there is a parliamentary majority in favor of the government’s proposal. Semi-automatic weapons will therefore be banned in Norway.”

“This decision is a very good thing, even if it comes belatedly,” said Lisabeth Kristine Roynemand, the head of a support group for victims of gun violence and their families. Her eighteen-year-old daughter was killed in the 2011 massacre.

Not everyone supports the proposed legislation. Farmers and hunters in the nation are protesting the measures.

For more information, please see:

Chicago Tribune – Norway and Australia Move Forward With new gun Control Measures, as U.S. Debate Rages on – 1 March 2018

The Guardian – Norway set to ban Semi-Automatic Guns From 2021, 10 Years After Utoya Shooting – 27 February 2018

Huffington Post – Norway Ready To Ban Semi-Automatic Weapons Starting In 2021, Says Lawmaker – 28 February 2018

Reuters – Norway set to ban Semi-Automatic Weapons – 1 March 2018

Washington Post – As U.S. gun Debate Rages on, Australians Hand in 57,000 Firearms, and Norway is set for a Broad ban – 1 March 2018