The highest ranking official on the French island of Reunion filed a legal suit against former film star and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot on Wednesday after receiving a letter deemed “racist” by the authorities.
In the letter, sent on Tuesday to the prefect of Reunion and local media, Bardot described inhabitants of the Indian Ocean island as “aboriginals who have kept the genes of savages” and denounced what she called the barbaric treatment of animals by a “degenerate population”.
“This letter contains terms that are offensive and racist toward the inhabitants of Reunion”, prefect Amaury de Saint-Quentin said in a statement.
Bardot’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment.
The Brigitte Bardot Foundation, dedicated to animal protection, said Bardot had written the letter as a personal initiative, separate from the institution.
Bardot, now 84, rose to sex symbol status as an actress in the 1950s. She starred in numerous films and was also famous as a singer and fashion model but in recent decades has become better known as an outspoken campaigner for animal welfare.
Reunion is an overseas French department in the southern Indian Ocean, to the east of Madagascar, and is known for its volcanoes, coral reefs and rainforest.
Bardot’s comments triggered widespread outrage on the island, with several officials saying they would also take legal action. Two anti-racism NGOs, Licra and SOS Racisme, said they too intended to go to court.
“Ordinary racism has no place in the exchange of opinions”, France’s Minister of Overseas Territories Annick Girardin said on Tuesday, adding that she would add her name to the complaint filed by the island’s prefect.
In Paris, the president of the lower house of parliament, Richard Ferrand, expressed his “contempt” for Bardot’s comments.
Animal rights activists say abuse of animals is common on the island and that animal sacrifice is tolerated in some religious ceremonies.
Reporting by Bernard Grollier; Additional reporting by Julie Carriat and Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Richard Lough and Gareth Jones