French PM defends promotion of minister accused of rape after feminist backlash

France's new prime minister firmly defended on Wednesday the contested promotion of a colleague accused of rape as his interior minister, in charge of enforcing French laws, following a backlash from feminist groups.

Gérald Darmanin, France's newly appointed interior minister, is under preliminary investigation over a rape accusation he denies.
Gérald Darmanin, France's newly appointed interior minister, is under preliminary investigation over a rape accusation he denies. © Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters

Prime Minister Jean Castex's vigorous expression of support for the minister, Gérald Darmanin, comes amid questions about whether President Emmanuel Macron is failing in his promises to make a priority of equality between men and women.

Castex told broadcaster BFM-TV that he took total responsibility for Darmanin's appointment at the interior ministry. He was promoted from his previous job as budget minister. 

“He, like everyone else, has the right to the presumption of innocence,” Castex said.

Darmanin is under preliminary investigation over a rape accusation that he firmly denies. Macron’s office has said the probe was “not an obstacle” to Darmanin’s appointment to his new job in charge of police and other law enforcement bodies.

The recently reopened investigation is based on a 2017 legal complaint by a woman who alleged that Darmanin raped her when she sought legal help from him in 2009. 

Darmanin, the highest-ranking French official accused of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, says the encounter was consensual. He has sued the woman for slander.

>> French feminists criticise choice of justice, interior ministers over sexism and rape claims

In another controversial appointment, Macron handed the justice ministry to provocative lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti, who previously ridiculed the #MeToo movement and defended a top official accused of rape.

On Tuesday, feminist groups staged two protests in Paris over the appointments they see as burying Macron’s promises to make equality between women and men the “Great Cause” of his five-year term.

“It’s a slap in the face,” said Pauline Baron of the feminist group NousToutes, which campaigns against sexual violence. “We are once again celebrating people who are accused of rape or say things that negate the voice of victims. It stifles victims and feeds sexual violence and rape culture.”

Referring to the #MeToo movement, Dupond-Moretti has criticized the “crazy” women who “crucify” men on social media. He also dismissed the world’s first law against catcalls and other street harassment, passed in France in 2018, as a “joke.”

In a reshuffling of the French government on Monday, Macron replaced the high-profile women’s rights minister behind that law, Marlene Schiappa. She will now work under Darmanin in a new role focusing on citizenship.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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