NICE, France (AP) — A French activist farmer facing potential prison time defended his aid to illegal African migrants in court Wednesday, calling it an act of humanity and not a crime.
"Helping someone is not an offense!" read a placard at a protest in support of farmer Cedric Herrou outside the Nice courthouse where he went on trial Wednesday.
The case has called attention to those who have resisted Europe's anti-migrant sentiment and are offering food, lodging or other aid to people from impoverished or war-torn countries coming to Europe illegally. There has notably been an outpouring of support in the Roya valley in the Alps, where Herrou has taken in dozens of migrants over the past year.
Herrou went on trial charged with helping illegal migrants enter France, travel in France and stay in France. His lawyer Zia Oloumy pleaded for acquittal, insisting a crime hasn't been proven.
The prosecutor asked for an eight-month suspended prison sentence and confiscation of Herrou's vehicle. The court could sentence him to up to five years in prison and 30,000 euros in fines if a guilty verdict is delivered Feb. 10.
Herrou says he is doing his civic duty and will keep helping the migrants, who are mainly from Eritrea and Sudan.
"The law is against me, against actions to help people in need, so we have to change the laws," he told reporters.
Lucia Palermo, a 36-year-old artist from the Italian border town of Vintimiglia, was among several people demonstrating in support of Herrou.
"I'm concerned by the fact that if we show solidarity with a European, there is no problem. But if you show solidarity with a migrant ... it's a problem. This concerns me a lot," Palermo said.
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.