The former French Legion leader General Piquemal was arrested at a PEGIDA march last weekend, a move which has been slammed as a “double standard” by the French right wing.
If found guilty, the prosecution of the General could send shock-waves through France as the Foreign Legion are highly respected as true patriots of France.
The General, who led the prestigious Legion from 1994 to 1999 and previously worked at the Ministry of Defence under three successive socialist Prime Ministers, was arrested on Saturday for taking part in the only march organised by the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) to be banned by the authorities.
He was accused of taking the “leading role” in the rally, and charged with “participation in a crowd that did not dissolve after summons”. Yesterday he was due in court alongside four others who were arrested at the event, but was unable to attend as he was rushed to hospital having suffered a seizure. His hearing was postponed until 12 May.
Yesterday attorney Hervé Krych told reporters that the General’s illness was “inevitable,” given that “the conditions during his custody were harsh”.
The General Piquemal himself was able to give more detail upon his release from hospital yesterday, telling Nord Littoral “We were made to sleep on the concrete with the lights on 24 hours a day. They took the belt from my trousers, my shoes. It was hell.”
He added that they were given food, saying “The police treated me very well, contrary to the instructions they had.”
When asked what was meant by that statement, a bodyguard intervened telling the reporter “he is tired.”
General Piquemal continued that he had intended to ask the crowd to disperse, but was prevented from doing so by his arrest. “I took the floor to talk to them [the PEGIDA marchers] and thank them for being here. When I spoke for a second time, I wanted to tell them to disperse. And it is at that time that I was arrested,” he said.
A highly respected man in France, his arrest sent shock-waves through the French right wing, with many from the National Front taking to social media to denounce the decision to arrest him.
David Rachline, the French National Front mayor of Frejus posted on Twitter: “There is an unbearable double standard between the measures taken against the “No Borders rioters and those who demonstrate against immigration.”
Florian Philpott, the vice-President of the National Front Tweeted: “I support General #Piquemal, a 4 star General, a great servant of France.”
Mayor of Beziers Robert Ménard, the founder of Reporters Without Borders tweeted: Migrants released, French General arrested, welcome to Hollandie [a reference to France’s President Hollande].
Calais Mayor Natascha Bouchart, who first instigated the ban on PEGIDA has signalled her approval, however, tweeting: “I cannot allow Calais to become a playground for extremists on one side or the other another. The law must remain in force.”
Others have drawn comparisons with recent protests by leftists. On Saturday afternoon in Renne a crowd of around 1,000 leftists clashed with police and threw paint in protest against an airport. Five were arrested, two of whom were subsequently released – one was a 41 year old man whose health was deemed “not compatible with custody”, the Telegramme has reported.
And two weeks ago in Calais the far left were able to gather in large numbers, defacing a statue of Charles de Gaulle, intimidating riot police and breaking into the town’s port.
Guillaume Peltier, a spokesman for the mainstream centre-right Republican party told France Info: “This is a clear case of double standards. We have impunity for No Borders who sprayed graffiti on the statue of General De Gaulle in Calais just a few weeks ago. Then there is the total impunity this weekend in Rennes (…), where the city centre was ransacked by extreme left militants. Yet here we are attacking this general, who was the commander of the Foreign Legion.”
He called on President Hollande to restore order to France, saying: “We are in an apocalyptic situation in Calais as it has been handed over to the rebels and the mafia. The President must visit the area, dissolve the far-left organizations that plague the town, stop the smugglers, expel those who have not contributed anything to the country, and secure a great European plan on the issue of migration.
Meanwhile, Mr Krych is hopeful for a positive outcome for his client. The General is “quite a guy,” he commented, adding that he was “physically run down, but morale is there and his intellectual abilities are still sharp. We’ll now have time to prepare a quality defence.”
The trial of four others arrested alongside General Piquemal went ahead in Calais yesterday against a backdrop of vocal support for the defendants from fellow PEGIDA supporters. All were charged with possession of weapons, including brass knuckles and a Taser. Two were handed custodial sentences of two and three months.