“What are you waiting for, Francois Hollande?”
That is the question being repeatedly asked as political and public pressure builds on the French President to immediately pardon and free battered woman Jacqueline Sauvage.
The 68 year-old mother is serving a 10-year prison sentence for the murder of her sadistically violent, incestuous, rapist husband of more than 40 years, a man Sauvage’s lawyers, family and supporters insist she fatally shot in self-defense.
Hollande who has been on an official trip to India responded, saying he has heard the growing public clamor for Sauvage’s liberation, and would even be ready to meet with her support committee at the Elysee palace, but that the legal procedure must be respected.
On Tuesday, former Sarkozy minister Valerie Pecresse, President of the powerful Ile-de-France region including Paris, lent considerable weight to the campaign when she called for Hollande to act. Pecresse was joined by another ex-minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and former Prime Minister Francois Fillon. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, far-left political leader Jean-Luc Melenchon and Socialist First Secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadelis have all used forums like Twitter and traditional media to publicly prod the President to intervene so Sauvage can leave prison.
Je soutiens pleinement Jacqueline Sauvage. Je suis bien sûr prête à m'engager aux côtés de ses soutiens. #LeGrandJury
— Anne Hidalgo (@Anne_Hidalgo) January 24, 2016
As reported by Women in the World, after the sentence for the 2012 murder was confirmed on appeal last month, and French women reacted with outrage across social networks, Sauvage’s daughters Sylvie, Carole and Fabienne made an official request imploring the head of State to invoke a rarely-used power dating from the ancien regime.
When the divine right of kings ruled, a citizen’s last recourse to justice was la grâce – the pardon – of the monarch, and today that is the only hope left for the mother of four, convicted for not having responded in a “proportionate” way to her husband’s last act of abuse and violence.
More than 369,000 have signed a change.org petition demanding freedom for Sauvage. Scores of high-profile figures have added their names to the campaign to liberate a woman who despite suffering decades of violence, failed to convince the court and jury that she ‘cracked’ and shot her husband dead because she was suffering from the post-traumatic syndrome evident in battered women.
France’s artistic community, including actresses Nathalie Baye and Eva Darlan, as well as media identities like broadcasters Jean-Michel Aphathie and Jean Marc Morandini are all part of the rapidly growing Free Jacqueline movement.
Radical Femen activists even tried to excavate a tunnel outside the prison complex housing Sauvage in a bid to free the woman exposing all that is wrong with French law on self-defence when it comes to women victims of domestic violence.
FEMEN dig tunnel in attempt to free jailed #JacquelineSauvage
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) January 22, 2016
According to Valerie Boyer one of the first politicians to take up Sauvage’s cause, and who wants law reform to help battered women, this mother’s fight had become a symbol for “the 134 French women who die from the blows of their violent husbands or partners” annually.
“Jacqueline Sauvage is in prison because the law reproaches her for not having died from the blows inflicted by her violent husband,” said Boyer, who visited Sauvage in prison near Orleans on Tuesday, with Kosciusko-Morizet.
— Valérie Boyer (@valerieboyer13) January 26, 2016
Last weekend Sauvage’s supporters, waving “Je suis Jacqueline Sauvage” placards gathered for a rally in Paris at the Bastille — historic site of the prison burned down at the beginning of the French revolution — to protest the continued incarceration of a woman they say was a victim, not a murderer.
“We can well imagine that the head of State is busy on many fronts, but this is a question of compassion and justice which cannot be considered as somehow secondary,” wrote editorialist Jonathan Bouchet-Petersen in Liberation newspaper. “And the case of Jacqueline Sauvage has become a symbol.”
Or, as Socialist Cambadelis tweeted: “Jacqueline Sauvage must be freed! Justice has passed, now is the time for compassion.”
Follow Emma-Kate Symons on Twitter @eksymons