French teacher convicted over anti-Semitic vaccine protest sign
David-Olivier Kaminski, lawyer for the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIJF), speaks to the press at the end of the trial of Cassandre Fristot at the courthouse of Metz, on September 8, 2021. © Jean-Christophe Verhaegen, AFP

A teacher in eastern France received a suspended jail sentence Wednesday for inciting racial hatred after brandishing an anti-Semitic sign at a demonstration over the government's Covid-19 health pass.

Cassandre Fristot, 34, was photographed at the demonstration in the city of Metz on August 7 holding a sign scrawled with the surnames of several well-known figures from politics, business and the media labelled "traitors!!!"

Many of those cited had Jewish or Jewish-sounding names such as US financier George Soros, French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy and former French health minister Agnes Buzyn.

The sign, which also cited President Emmanuel Macron and current Health Minister Olivier Veran, also bore the question "but who?" -- a hashtag used by conspiracy theorists to perpetuate the anti-Semitic claim that Jews control the media.

Fristot, a former local councillor with Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front (now called the National Rally), was suspended from her job as a German teacher in the wake of the picture.

She denied it was anti-Semitic.

The six-month suspended sentence handed down by a court in Metz was stiffer than the three-month suspended sentence state prosecutors had requested.

Fristot was also ordered to pay between one euro and 300 euros ($350) in damages to eight anti-racism groups that joined the case as plaintiffs.

She was not in court for the ruling.

Annie Levi-Cyferman, a lawyer for France's Human Rights League, hailed the judgement as "a victory for everything that constitutes incitement to hatred" and praised the court for not "being fooled" by the sign's "hidden" message.

The sign, which was widely shared on social media, caused an outcry in the political class and among anti-racism campaigners.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called it "despicable" and vowed Fristot would be punished.

"Anti-Semitism is a crime, not an opinion," he tweeted in August.

Over the summer tens of thousands of French people demonstrated against the introduction of a pass requiring people to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid, tested negative for the virus or already had the disease in order to gain entry to bars, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, gyms and other facilities.

In the past two months, however, the protest movement has begun to run out of steam as more people who had resisted getting vaccinated relent and agree to receive Covid jabs.

(AFP)