French judges at odds about how to deal with climate activists

Protesters have stolen 130 portraits of the French President Emanuel Macron, calling on him to more radically address climate change

FILE - In this Aug.25, 2019 file photo, demonstrators hold up upside down portraits of French President Emmanuel Macron during a protest in Bayonne, France. One by one, environmental activists around France have been taking portraits of President Emmanuel Macron down from scattered town halls this year. The portrait-removers, have been facing trials around the country, with some fined, others released. An appeals court in Lyon is reconsidering the first conviction handed down over portrait removal Tuesday. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, File)
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Courts in France have been left divided over how to deal with climate change protesters stealing presidential portraits of the country’s leader, Emmanuel Macron.

As Extinction Rebellion demonstrations and other climate change protests grip Europe, judges in France have become particularly flummoxed over how they should deal with protesters who have stolen pictures of Mr Macron.

The theft of the official portraits, which hang in state buildings, are meant to mock the French president and press him directly to do more to stop climate change.

As the protesters are processed by the court system, some have been acquitted while others have received fines.

The difference in sentences have rested on whether local judges regard the thefts as worth a fine or a principled act of civil disobedience.

Activists have removed Mr Macron's official portraits from more than 130 town halls since the start of 2019, from the foothills of the Alps to the Left Bank of Paris.

The protesters say the centrist, business-friendly leader is not acting boldly enough to cut emissions. They say France has lagged on its international commitments to increase renewable energy use.

At the G7 summit hosted by France in the city of Biarritz in August, protesters carried more than 100 portraits of Mr Macron.

They paraded the stolen portraits along with fakes and pictures of family members to stop police from properly discerning which had been stolen. Some portraits were wrapped in bags and newspaper.

More recently, climate change protests led by the Extinction Rebellion movement have been held in France.

Last month, hundreds of demonstrators staged a sit-in at the Italie 3 mall in south-east Paris. The protest was a prelude to global demonstrations staged by Extinction Rebellion in October.

France’s Extinction Rebellion protests have melded with the country’s Yellow Vest movement.

The working class, grass-roots, anti-establishment movement has combined grievances including low wages, high prices and climate change.

At the end of September, more than 7,500 police officers had to be posted in Paris to stop violence amid fears that radical bloc protesters might infiltrate a climate march in the French capital.

Police made 137 arrests on the day, which tarnished the reputation of the thousands of peaceful protesters who had earlier marched to demand action on climate change.