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21/12/01 . by Jean-Marc Aubert . Associated Press . MONTPELLIER, France
French Farmer Jose Bove Sentenced to Jail
A judge sentenced militant French farmer Jose Bove to six months in jail Thursday, but not until riot police fired tear gas to force more than 100 of his supporters from the courthouse.
The appeals court convicted Bove, a leading anti-globalization activist, for his role in destroying a genetically modified rice field in southern France in 1999.
After the sentencing, a defiant Bove vowed to continue the fight against genetically modified crops. He said he would lodge his second appeal in the case, this time to France's highest court, the Court of Cassation - a move that could keep him out of jail for up to a year. Under French law, defendants don't have to being serving sentences until all appeals are exhausted.
"Today they've tried to weaken our fight,'' Bove told reporters at the courthouse, in this southern French town. "For us, this combat will not stop ... and if they put us in prison ... the battle will continue from behind bars.''
Opposition to genetically modified foods has been very strong in France. Bove's Farmers Confederation has made the issue one of their causes, threatening to uproot experimental fields of modified food if the government doesn't destroy them.
The appeals court verdict followed a trial last month. In that case, the judge handed down a lighter punishment: a 10-month suspended jail sentence and a fine.
Judge Patrick Brossier delayed the verdict Thursday for about two hours after more than 100 farmers from the Farmers' Confederation disrupted the proceedings and refused to leave the courtroom. Riot police moved in, pushing the protesters into the courthouse lobby and finally expelling them from the building with tear gas.
France's Human Rights League denounced the verdict and expressed its "solidarity'' with Bove.
Bove hit the media spotlight two years ago after he led the ransacking in 1999 of a McDonald's restaurant near his home in Millau, in southern France. Later that year, Bove and two others allegedly destroyed more than 1,000 rice plants in a greenhouse operated by Cirad, a research firm near Montpellier. The three were convicted this past March.
All three appealed. The court handed down a six-month
sentence Thursday to former Farmers'
Confederation member Rene Riesel and a six-month
suspended sentence to Dominique Soullier, a regional
spokesman for the group.