Skinheads on trial in Paris death of teen anti-fascism activist
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Three skinheads go on trial on Tuesday in Paris in the death of Clément Méric, an 18-year-old student who became an icon of the antifascist or “antifa” movement after the impromptu 2013 street fight that claimed his life.
The trial is scheduled to span two weeks. The accused, ultra-right-wing activists Esteban Morillo and Samuel Dufour, both 25, are charged with violence leading – involuntarily – to Méric’s death, committed in a group and using a weapon, brass knuckles. The two men face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. A third defendant, 29-year-old Alexandre Eyraud, is charged with aggravated assault against two of Méric’s associates. He faces up to five years behind bars.
From the start, antifa activists have deemed Méric’s death a “political killing” while right-wing extremists have claimed the accused acted in legitimate “self-defence”. The trial will address pressing questions that have hung over the case since that late-spring evening five years ago: Was a weapon used and did the accused intend to kill Méric, or was his death the result of a brawl gone wrong.
Around 6pm on June 5, 2013, in the heart of Paris, far-left and far-right youth turned up, apparently by chance, at the same private clothing sale of Fred Perry and Ben Sherman apparel in a boutique off the French capital’s Grands Boulevards.
As each group recognised its rivals, the atmosphere grew heated, with insults hurled. One far-leftist reportedly taunted the ultra-right-wing faction, clad in T-shirts touting “white power” and “100% pure race”, calling them “Nazis” out shopping. The anti-fascist contingent left the sale first, only to remain in the street nearby. When the skinhead customers sought to leave the boutique, a security guard invited the group to turn right at the exit in a bid to avert an encounter with the far-leftists, but it declined.
Later, 40 minutes after the rival groups first entered the shop, a fight broke out in front the Saint-Louis d’Antin church nearby. Méric, a native of Brest, western France, who had been recovering from Leukemia, collapsed. The Sciences Po student suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and was pronounced dead the next day.
At the time, the French government, under Socialist former president François Hollande, pledged to punish “the murderers” and dissolved a number of far-right and racist groups with ties to the accused.
The investigating magistrates’ inquiry ultimately concluded that the rival groups’ unforeseen encounter had degenerated into a fight, but ruled out any homicidal intention on the part of the perpetrators.
Morillo, a security guard, has admitted to hitting Méric twice, while Dufour, a baker, has said he never hit the victim. Both deny using brass knuckles. In custody after the incident, Morillo said Dufour had used brass knuckles on antifa opponents during the fight and Dufour himself sent an SMS to a friend saying “I struck with your brass knuckles” and “We crushed them”.
On Monday night in Paris, nearly 300 anti-fascism activists and their supporters rallied near the courthouse on the eve of the trial to demand that the “truth” come to light in the case.
“The death of Clément Méric is a political murder. He was targeted because he was recognised as an antifascist activist,” a spokesperson for Action antifasciste Paris Banlieue (AFAPB) told Agence France-Presse at the Place Saint-Michel rally.
Méric’s death is “not a minor news item; it is symbolic of the rising power of the far right, in France and in Europe” with “the complicity of governments’ fascist, racist and ultraliberal policies”, the spokesperson said.
At the rally, Geneviève Bernanos, who belongs to a collective of mothers united with victims of “fascist crimes” and police repression, laments what she suggests is the false equivalence made between fascists and anti-fascists. “They will not have us believe that this is [merely] a street fight,” she said. “That’s what’s at stake in this trial.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)