BOURG-EN-BRESSE, France (AP) — Six French environmental activists have been convicted of theft for removing an official portrait of President Emmanuel Macron to protest his climate change policies.
Five activists were sentenced Wednesday to a suspended 500-euro fine — they won’t have to pay unless they commit the offense again. One, who has a previous conviction, will have to pay a 250-euro fine.
They were also ordered to give back Macron’s portrait to the town hall of Jassans-Riottier from where they took it in March in what they called an act of civil disobedience.
The trial in the eastern town of Bourg-en-Bresse is the first of several similar trials across the country.
The convictions appear mostly symbolic since the defendants, charged with “group theft by deceit,” could have faced prison terms and up to 150,000 euros in fines.
“We are smiling because the court acknowledges that what we’ve done is not so serious,” one activist, Nicolas Guerini, told The Associated Press. “We have been partially heard.”
Nine other trials are scheduled as activists have taken down dozens of Macron portraits across France. Other removal actions are planned in the coming months, notably before the G-7 summit of heads of states in the southwestern town of Biarritz in August.
Internationally, Macron is a vocal champion of fighting climate change. He sees himself as the guarantor of the U.N.’s 2015 Paris climate accord, and has challenged U.S. President Donald Trump on the issue — notably inviting U.S. scientists to do their research in France under his “Make our Planet Great Again” program.
At home in France, however, activists accuse him of lagging on promises to wean France from fossil fuels.
Environmental groups are trying to bring legal action against the French state to force it to respect commitments.
Macron tried to raise fuel taxes last year to reduce emissions, but the yellow vest protests erupted, complaining that ordinary French workers were being hit too hard by taxes. Macron later backed down, delaying the tax rise.
According to Eurostat, France is behind on its European commitments in terms of renewable energy, and ranks next to bottom among EU countries. Macron’s government also delayed the goal of reducing the share of nuclear in its energy mix from 71% now to 50% to 2035, instead of 2025 previously.