France: Prison sentence for Algerian player Youcef Atal for his solidarity with Gaza

A court in Nice in southern France sentenced Algerian football player Youcef Atal to an 8-month suspended sentence on charges of sharing “anti-Semitic content and spreading hatred based on religion” while expressing his support for Gaza at the beginning of the Israeli aggression after a surprise attack by Hamas on October 7.

The ruling issued on January 3 included a fine for the French club Nice player 45,000 euros ($49,000), according to the Agence France-Presse website.

The prosecution had sought a 10-month suspended imprisonment. As for the party that sued him, it was the “Representative Council of the Jewish Religion,” supported by the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, who is affiliated with the anti-immigrant right.

Atal testified before the court last month, and said at the time: “I published the video because I thought it carried a message of peace and talked about the suffering of people during the war, and I feel remorse for not having watched it until the end.”

He was referring to a video he posted on his social media account, in which a Palestinian sheikh appears calling for “killing Jews.”

The 27-year-old player has not participated in any match with Nice since last October, and the French First Division League suspended him for seven matches due to the post. Local media also speculated that Nice would no longer require his services during the winter transfers season.

Upon arrival at Algiers airport coming from Nice, on the 22nd of last month, for the purpose of participating in a preparation camp for his country’s national team, Atal seemed not concerned about the developments in his judicial file. He told the press: “I am happy with the Algerian people’s messages and their solidarity, and I thank them for their support, solidarity, and for standing by my side… I am not worried because I did not commit a heinous crime. All I wanted was to show solidarity with the Palestinian people, and God willing, the issue will be resolved.”

After these statements, Atal was subjected to severe criticism from the French media, under the pretext that he “insisted on his mistake instead of showing remorse and admitting guilt.”

Atal was arrested in Nice in November, released on bail of 80,000 euros, and banned from leaving France, except for reasons related to his work as a professional footballer.

Last October, French parliamentarian Valérie Pouilly called for the withdrawal of French citizenship from the international football player of Algerian origins, Karim Benzema, after he expressed his sympathy for the residents of the Palestinian city of Gaza, which has been subjected to continuous Israeli bombing for 80 days, claiming the lives of 22 thousand Palestinians, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza.

The Interregional Center for Strategic Analyzes notes that many opinions are surprised by the French measures towards citizens who wish to declare their support for Palestine, including Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin’s decision to ban “pro-Palestinian demonstrations,” given that this is considered a type of restriction of freedom of expression in the country. The country of Voltaire, to whom this quote is attributed: “I do not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death that you have the right to say it.”

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