French farmer convicted for helping migrants

NICE, France (AP) — A French activist farmer was convicted Friday of helping migrants illegally cross the border from Italy and given a suspended, 3,000-euro (US$3,191) fine.

Authorities said Cedric Herrou, 37, assisted some 200 migrants over the past year, housing some in his farm in the Roya valley in the Alps, near the Italian border, and others in an unused building owned by French national railway company SNCF. He also helped them travel in France, using his own vehicle.

He was charged in autumn last year for having helped people to enter, travel and stay illegally in the country.

Herrou was convicted Friday for having helped migrants cross the border illegally between Italy and France. He was acquitted of the other charges.

The case has called attention to those who have resisted Europe's anti-migrant sentiment and are offering food, lodging or other aid to people from impoverished or war-torn countries.

Herrou has argued that his actions to help migrants were not a crime, but his civic duty, and his lawyer Zia Oloumy said his client "acted in a humanitarian context."

Outside a court in Nice Friday, Herrou said he acted on behalf of "human and children rights". He called on people to join groups helping migrants "so that we don't do this clandestinely."

On Friday, he still had several teenagers from Sudan and Eritrea staying in caravans on his farm.

A 2012 French law provides legal immunity to people helping migrants with "humanitarian and disinterested actions," but the prosecutor had argued Herrou was subverting the law.

Friday's court decision appears mostly symbolic, since Herrou will not have to pay the fine. The prosecutor had initially requested a suspended eight-month prison sentence.

Herrou received an outpouring of support from his neighborhood, with about 300 supporters backing him outside the court.

Among them, Khadija Sangare, a 17-year-old girl from Mali, who entered France illegally and was helped by Herrou, told reporters she was relieved.

"Helping minors is nor a crime", she said.