|Florence Cassez in Mexico|
Cassez had gone to Mexico in 2003 to live near her brother, find work and start a new life. One year later she met Israel Vallarta, a Mexican, and they began a relationship which continued until her arrest, at Vallarta's home. Vallerta was arrested at the same time and charged with the the same offences and many more.
She insisted all along that she was innocent, and Vallarta corroborated her story by stating that she had not been present at any of the kidnappings or other crimes which he was accused of and that she knew nothing about them. Vallarta is still awaiting trial. President Sarkozy made several high-profile attempts to obtain her extradition to France to serve out her sentence, demand Mexican President Calderon's clemency in the matter, or have a retrial, but all his efforts and those of others failed.
However, it became obvious early on that her conviction was a farce, and the truth began to emerge when it was revealed that her arrest at Vallerta's home had been staged. They had in fact been arrested on a highway the previous day, but the police and authorities decided that as no press reporters and photographers were present they would keep them in Vallerta's home overnight and invite the press the next day to film the bogus arrests, during which Cassez and Vallarta were paraded in front of the cameras before the police declared that the operation had been a triumph against cartels and drove their prisoners away. Once the truth came out, the police and authorities admitted what they had done, and the Mexican media apologised for falling for the story.
Many other details of police misdoing emerged, including that they had misled the courts on a number of occasions and fabricated evidence.
The judge at yesterday's hearing, which had become inevitable given the flood of suspicions that the investigation had been botched and illegal from the start, freed Cassez after accepting that her civil and human rights had been abused, that there had been police misconduct and fabricated evidence and that her trial had been truncated.
Her plane touched down at Roissy airport at 13:45 Paris time and she was home. A happy ending? Far from it, and Florence Cassez is about to become the victim of another inquisition - a witch-hunt by the French public.
I followed live comment threads on the story today in the French press, and the venemous, hateful cynicism to be read in the majority of the comments made my blood curdle. Here are a few examples, which I have copied and translated from the comment thread of this live article.
"Not all of France is for Florence Cassez, far from it, as she is probably guilty of kidnapping..."
"Nothing proves that she is innocent or the victim of an error of justice, but she's French and that seems somehow sufficient to absolve her."
"Excuse me, but she's a liar. She was a liar yesterday, she is a liar today and she will be a liar tomorrow."
"Not only is she guilty, she's an idiot."
"Some countries heap praise upon their scientists, but we heap praise upon our criminals."
"Florence Casses is a French citizen who committed serious crimes in a foreign country."
Just how is it possible that people can be so gratuitously and offensively vindictive? These and other comments like them are a nausous cesspit of abhorrent malevolence, and they represent just the very beginning of what shall prove to be a long-running witch-hunt.
Does the treatment of Cassez remind you of that meted out to another woman in similar circumstances a few years ago? Her name is Amanda Knox. She was the American exchange student who was found guilty in Italy in 2009 along with two other men, one of whom was her boyfriend, of the 2008 sexual assault and murder of Knox's flatmate, English student Meredith Kercher. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Her boyfriend was sentenced to 25 years and the other man to 30 years.
Both Knox and her boyfriend were released in 2011 after their convictions were quashed by a panel of judges and jurors who found that that there was a "material non-existence" of evidence to support the charges, that DNA testing and other investigative procedures had not been followed, that they had been mistreated by the police and that the trial procedure was highly flawed. The other man is still serving his sentence, although it has been reduced on appeal.
Knox too (but not her boyfriend, which is significant) was 'welcomed' home by a torrent of abuse and accusations that she was a liar, guilty, a temptress, the face of evil (yes) and the press joined in with a series of salacious articles which attempted to smear her reputation.
So what is it about these cases that results in this kind of sick campaign?
What Amanda Knox went through - and what Florence Cassez shall wake up to tomorrow, if she isn't aware of it already - is the reflection of a deep-seated hatred of the female sex (misogyny) which originates in a fear of them which goes back to ancient times and is still present today, and not only amongst males. It is what has fueled many centuries of discrimination against, and abuse of, women, and it is what led to the terrifying kind of mass hysteria which resulted in the slaughter of millions of women between the hundreds of years BC until the Middle Ages. These events are what are called 'witch-hunts'.
Make no mistake. What we are witnessing here in France, and what Knox suffered too, is a modern-day witch-hunt. It might not involve killing women, but it is just as terrifying to behold, and it must also be a terrifying ordeal for those who are the victims of this barbaric, bestial and obscurantist infamy.