Three members of French far-right group Generation Identitaire — Generation Identity — were sentenced to six months in prison on Thursday for a huge anti-migrant operation in the Alps that included rented helicopters.
The organisation itself was also fined €75,000 by a court in the Hautes-Alpes town of Gap.
It had rented two helicopters, a plane and patrol vehicles tagged with the slogan "Defend Europe" to hunt migrants crossing the Alps in April 2018. It claimed to have handed over four migrants to authorities.
The defendants were prosecuted for "activities carried out under conditions likely to create confusion in the minds of the public with the exercise of a public function”.
Clément Gandelin (known as Galant), 24, president of Génération Identitaire, Romain Espino, 26, organiser and spokesman, and former organiser Damien Lefèvre (known as Rieu), 29, were also fined €2,000 each.
The court said the sentence reflected the “extremely serious nature” of the offence, the scale of the “disturbance of public order” and the defendants’ criminal record.
Pierre-Vincent Lambert, the lawyer for the defendants, said they would appeal the decision.
Generation Identitaire mounted a vast operation at Col de l'Échelle, a crossing point for many migrants in the Hautes-Alpes, on April 21, 2018, in which about a hundred volunteers activists dressed in blue jackets created a "symbolic border" in the snow and announced the interceptions of migrants.
Rieu, who has 50,000 followers on a verified Twitter account, said after the ruling that prosecutors had “decided to persecute young Frenchmen who dare to prove symbolically and peacefully that defending our borders is possible.” He also called for donations via a Tipeee account.
Generation Identitaire was established in France in 2012 and now operates in many European countries, including Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom. In 2017 it used a boat to try and prevent the docking of rescue vessels carrying migrants from the Meditteranean Sea.