By Presidential Decree
While Éric Zemmour seems to have escaped for now any lawsuit filed against him on grounds he is a racist, another Frenchman named Jean-Hugues Matelly, 44, has been kicked out of the gendarmerie by Nicolas Sarkozy.
Reminder: the gendarmes, once a part of the Defense Ministry, were transferred to the Interior Ministry by Sarkozy after he became president. The reasons for this dramatic, and not fondly regarded, upheaval, were assumed to be that as part of Interior, the gendarmes would be subject to presidential control, and have fewer opportunities to actually fight like the soldiers they really are. As gendarmes in the military, they had more freedom to use firearms; as policemen they are restricted (or some would say castrated). It also meant fewer expenditures for the State. Novopress reports:
While the malaise in the gendarmerie, after the transfer in August 2009 to the Interior Ministry, has only increased, here's an incident not likely to calm things down.
In a measure that is exceedingly rare in public service, squadron chief of the Picardie region, Jean-Hugues Matelly, 44, has just been dismissed from the force. He has been charged with "serious failing" with regard to the "duty to remain silent" ("devoir de réserve") that is part of his function. The officer had, in fact, publicly and energetically criticized, in an article entitled: "The Gendarmerie buried, wrongly, amidst general indifference", Sarkozy's decision to transfer the gendarmerie to the Interior Ministry.
Note: This question of a "duty to remain silent" ("devoir de réserve") has surfaced before. I posted one article on the topic in June 2008. People in public service (especially the military) are expected to be discreet, to refrain from any criticism of their job or their superiors. The gendarmes are still considered to be military, even though they are controlled by the Interior Ministry. Matelly broke this rule and was cashiered. The question is: should freedom of speech apply to government functionaries, the way it does (theoretically) to journalists? Wouldn't that result in too much loose talk and rampant rumors? Is there some justification for the "devoir de réserve"?
The decision of March 12, by decree of the French president, was conveyed to Matelly on March 25. In the opinion of the officer's attorney, this decision is "without precedent" and signifies a "grave assault" on freedom of expression.
As co-author of a book entitled Police, the figures and the doubts (publisher Michalon), Matelly had already received a reprimand that the Council of State had nullified. This time, again according to the attorney of the fired officer, "there is a manifest disproportion between the act and the punishment. This is a case of an opinion crime!"
It is indeed better to avoid displeasing Nicolas Sarkozy if you want to keep your job.
Another article at L'Express publishes the words of the officer himself. He clarifies some of the questions I posed above:
The flagrant illegality of this decree and the attack it represents on fundamental freedoms must be made known," indicated Matelly who filed an appeal with the Council of State.
"Whatever their decision, it will be necessary to file an appeal, and that can take months, even years." He added that he "no longer counts on the public discourse triggered by the affair to expedite matters.
Matelly insists he does not understand the severity of the punishment: "I think that it is my free tone that upsets them," he said. He acknowledges that "there must necessarily be a limit to freedom of expression (...) but this concept is not defined by law. It is determined on a case by case basis and varies according to the government in power (...)
He believes that "in France, the military personnel are free to speak so long as they stay within the ruling party's line," while they are "much freer in the rest of Europe and the United States."
"It isn't the first time that I've been punished for the failure to observe the duty to remain silent. But it had always been while I was a gendarme. And it did not go as far as a discharge," he continues, feeling that he took enough precautions when he signed the article in question as a researcher and not as a gendarme.
Squadron chief ("commandant") Matelly had spoken publicly as a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research late in 2008, criticizing the merger of the gendarmerie with the police, under the Interior Ministry, a move that became official in January 2009.
He was discharged from the officer corps on Thursday as a "disciplinary measure" by presidential decree (...)
You might want to review two other articles I posted in 2007 on the gendarmerie, here and here.
Below Commandant Matelly. (I guess we should say "ex-commandant".)