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Jail Terms, Heavy Fines Set by French Decree Banning Anti-jewish Agitation

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Prison terms of five days to six months plus fines up to 10,000 francs are provided for violation of the new decree prohibiting anti-Semitic propaganda, text of which was made public today in the Official Gasette. The penalties, which are classified in five categories, depend upon whether the offense is against a group or individual, publicly or privately.

It was announced that the decree supplements the press law of July 29, 1881, which provides for “suppression of defamation or insults, whether against groups or individuals of certain origin, race or religion, should they aim to provoke hatred among citizens or inhabitants.” As published in the Official Gazette, the preamble to the edict makes it clear that anti-Semitic propaganda is held detrimental to France’s defense. “Vigorous efforts for defense of the nation, imposed by circumstances,” it declares, “makes discipline and unity within the country imperative. Everything creating or favoring division within France can harm the above efforts.”

It was reliably learned that the French Episcopacy insisted that the decree be adopted, thus outweighing the opposition which had contended that freedom of the press was being restricted. A signed statement by Premier Edouard Daladier, Coordination Minister Camille Chautemps, Justice Minister Paul Marchandeau (author of the decree) Interior Minister Albert Sarraut and Colonial Minister Georges Mandel, declared: “There is no dange of the decree being applied to other aims than intended. Thus, freedom of the press will not be affected.”

The Official Gazette also published the text of the decree suppressing foreign propaganda, with a preamble which declares that it was necessary for the national defense. The decree provides prison terms of six months to five years plus a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 francs for anyone receiving funds from abroad, directly or indirectly and under any form of pretext, and using them for propaganda purposes. Courts are empowered to deprive of citizenship rights for five to ten years anyone found guilty of violating the law. Anyone receiving funds for publicity operations must report them to the police within eight days or face a penalty of 100 to 1,000 francs.

All evening newspapers voiced praise of the two decrees. The League to Combat Anti-Semitism sent a message of thanks to the Government for their adoption. The decree will enter into force immediately, since the Cabinet is empowered to issue decrees until November without Parliament’s approval.

Need for the new edicts was explained by Premier Daladier and his aides in a statement submitting them to President Albert Lebrun for signature. On August 4, 1938, the statement pointed out, the Government declared in Parliament that any attempt to incite one part of the population against another must be considered treason. Strenuous national defense efforts demanded the utmost internal discipline, the statement declared.

The existing laws had proved inadequate in checking “highly suspicious” campaigns, President Lebrun was told, tending to weaken the morale of the nation. The Government, therefore, decided to modify the 1881 law accordingly.

The French law, according to the statement, afforded protection against libel and defamation of groups which constitute a legal unit but not of racial groups. To fill this gap “which was brought to light by numerous recent facts,” the President was told, the signatories suggested completion of the 1881 law by the addition of clauses suppressing defamation and libels of groups belonging by origin to a certain race or religion, whenever delicts aimed to excite hatred among citizens and inhabitants.

The statement emphasized that the modifications did not alter the spirit of freedom which was the basis of the 1881 law but “coordinate this spirit with that of liberty, equality and fraternity, which is the slogan of the Republic.”

“No racial or religious pretext should break the equality of our citizens or affect French fraternity,” the statement concluded, adding that the interests of the French Commonwealth rather than those of affected groups were considered by the decrees, since discord and incitement to hatred tended to weaken the Commonwealth.

Reports from Alsace said today that the population there was joyful over the decree dissolving three pro-Nazi organizations.

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