A defamation suit brought by former French member of parliament Denis Baupin against eight women who accused him of sexual harassment, and four journalists who reported the allegations, is being seen as a further backlash against the #MeToo movement in France.
Baupin, the disgraced former vice president of France’s National Assembly and prominent Green party MP, resigned in May 2016 after denying the allegations.
An investigative website, Mediapart, and radio station France Inter, published stories from 14 women who alleged that Baupin had harassed, groped or sent explicit text messages to them across several years. The alleged harassment took place from 1998 to 2013.
Most of those women were also members of the Green party, whose leader at the time was Baupin’s wife, Emmanuelle Cosse. Although a thorough investigation was carried out by police, including interviews with 50 people, and the complainants were said by prosecutors all to have provided “measured, constant statements,” the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations (since increased to six years) meant no charges could be laid.
The allegations against Baupin were made a year and a half before accusations of sexual assault surfaced against film producer Harvey Weinstein, sparking the #MeToo movement. In France, the campaign that has called powerful men to account was met with strong resistance from several high-profile women, including actor Catherine Deneuve.
In court on Monday, Baupin’s lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat said: “My client has said all he has to say to investigators. He was never [legally] pursued, he has been destroyed by this affair. We are attacking the media who lacked any kind of caution and who published false information with contempt for the presumption of innocence.”
Edwy Plenel, Mediapart’s director, said it was the first #MeToo era trial in France.
“We totally respected the right of the press. Denis Baupin and his lawyer have tried to suppress the truth. Today, he is pursuing the victims, all these women … instead of looking at himself.”
Under French law, those being sued for defamation must prove they acted in good faith or told the truth. Journalists are required to also show they had a legitimate goal in running the story, were careful and balanced in their reports and were not motivated by personal animosity, the Guardian reports.