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French politics

Macron under fire after defending minister accused of rape and sexual assault

Women and men protesting in Paris against promotion of Gérald Darmanin from budget minister to interior minister
Women and men protesting in Paris against promotion of Gérald Darmanin from budget minister to interior minister Thomas COEX / AFP

President Emmanuel Macron has defended his interior minister Gérald Darmanin, accused of rape and sexual assault, in the name of presumption of innocence. But comments that he had had a "man to man" chat with the minister have shocked some MPs and feminist groups.

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In a television interview marking Bastille Day, French President Macron said he understood “the emotion and anger” of feminist groups who had protested against the recent appointment of Gérald Darmanin, under investigation for rape and sexual assault, as interior minister.

But he said Darmanin should not be made a victim of a "judgment on the streets".

"If from the moment someone is accused, he is not tried, he becomes somehow the victim of a judgment on the streets or on social networks," Macron said. "Our democracy changes nature, it becomes a democracy of opinion.

"For France I want the best of our country," he continued, "I don't want the worst of Anglo-Saxon society."

Graffiti in Paris's 20th district denounces the "shame" of having interior minister Gérald Darmanin and justice minister Eric Dupond-Moretti in the new government
Graffiti in Paris's 20th district denounces the "shame" of having interior minister Gérald Darmanin and justice minister Eric Dupond-Moretti in the new government © RFI

Hundreds of women took to the streets of Paris last week to protest against Darmanin's promotion in a government reshuffle, saying he should not be allowed to hold high office and demanding his resignation.

Macron described Darmanin as “an intelligent, committed political leader,” and said he had been “hurt” by the criticism.

He offered Darmanin his full support, no only because the 37-year old former budget minister has the right to presumption of innocence, but also because the two men’s relationship was “one of trust”.

“Man to Man”

Macron said the two men had met to discuss the allegation, describing it as  "man to man, if I may say”.

Those comments raised more than an eyebrow in political circles and feminist groups.

“Man to man trust! Now we have a better sense of why he [Macron] doesn’t understand the problem,” tweeted Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the hard left France Unbowed party.

'Macho stage production'

For Karima Delli, Green MP and president of the European Parliament's transport commission, Macron’s comments amounted to a “macho stage production”.

“Macron is simply ignoring the fight against violence against women in favour of… political scheming,” she tweeted. "Presumption of innocence is not an excuse for everything.” 

Darmanin has been accused of coercing a woman into having sex in 2009 when she sought his help in having her criminal record cleared.

A judge dismissed the case against him after a preliminary investigation into the allegation was dropped.  But the case was reopened on 11 June 2020, although no new evidence had been found.

Darmanin denies the charge of rape, maintaining sexual relations with the plaintiff, Sophie Spatz-Patterson,  were consensual.

LREM MPs defend 'presumption of innocence'

On Wednesday, some 170 MPs from the ruling LREM party signed a tribune in Le Monde in defence of the principle of presumption of innocence, insisting Darmanin "was no exception".

They denounced how the government had been the subject of "particularly violent criticism from protestors," citing  "slanderous and shameful slogans" such as "welcome to the rape ministry", "rapists in prison, not in government",  and  "the culture of rape En Marche" in reference to the movement founded by Emmanuel Macron.

The signatories said that since 2017, when Macron's LREM party came to power, they had been "committed to advancing gender equality and fighting sexual and sexist violence," and called for progress on such subjects to be made "without renouncing what we are: a State of Law”.

“The presumption of innocence," they explained, "is protected by our Constitution, the same one which defends the principle of gender equality.”

An investigating judge will now decide whether there is a case to pursue with a formal investigation into the allegation against Darmanin.

Lawyers for Darmanin said in a statement last month that the ruling was a matter of legal process, and that the minister had filed a complaint for slander.

(with Reuters)

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