Did the French National Assembly Pass a "Pfizer Article" Criminalising Criticism of the mRNA Vaccines?

For a few days now, the internet has been telling me that the French National Assembly passed a law making “any criticism of [the] mRNA platform punishable with up to 3 years imprisonment and 45,000 euros.” As is often the case, the reports beneath these headlines were slightly less sensational. There, one typically reads that the law targets not mere criticism of the mRNA jabs, but explicit advice against vaccination. That may not sound like a big difference, but details always matter. I have now read both the law itself and many reports from the French press about its origins and the controversies attending it. I can report that it is indeed bad, but perhaps not quite as terrible as some have claimed.

The Pfizer Papers: Pfi... The WarRoom/DailyClout... Buy New $32.50 (as of 09:47 UTC - Details) First, some context. At issue is Article 4 of a law proposed last autumn to combat “sectarian aberrations,” which is how the French refer to cults. The latter appear to have become a special focus of French politics during the long presidency of Jacques Chirac. At first, Chirac’s government founded the “Observatoire interministériel sur les sectes” (the “Interministerial observatory on sects”) in 1996, which was succeeded in 1998 by MILS, or the “Mission interministérielle de lutte contre les sectes” (“Interministerial Mission to Combat Sects”). MILS then achieved even greater verbiage and a more august acronym in 2002 as MIVILUDES, or the “Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires” – the “Interministerial Mission of Vigilance and Resistance against Sectarian Aberrations.”

Having established this anti-cult bureaucracy, French politicians began wondering how it might be deployed against Covid dissidents like Didier Raoult. In March 2023, then-Secretary of State for Citizenship Sonia Backès convened a “National Conference to Combat Sectarian Aberrations,” in an “effort to give fresh impetus to public policy for combating the scourge” of unorthodox beliefs and practices. Among the fruits of this conference was a proposal for “health-focussed legislation to combat sectarian aberrations”:

The bill is due to be presented to the Council of Ministers on Wednesday 15 November. At a time when the number of reports of sectarian aberrations is on the rise, it introduces a new offence of “incitement to abandon or refrain from treatment or to adopt practices” that pose a risk to health.

[Sonia Backès successor] Sabrina Agresti-Roubache is due to present the bill to the Council of Ministers; it aims to strengthen the existing legislative arsenal to combat cults. The bill is part of a national strategy to combat a phenomenon which, according to the number of reports received by the Interministerial Mission of Vigilance and Resistance against Sectarian Aberrations (MIVILUDES), appears to be on the rise …

“Sectarian aberrations have changed radically over the last few years,” Agresti-Roubache says in a press release. “Groups claiming to be religious have been joined by a multitude of others active in the fields of health, nutrition, well-being, and personal development, coaching and training.” In her view, this problem has been created by the [Covid] health crisis, “with its periods of confinement” and “difficult economic and social conditions.” These have encouraged “the emergence of discourses that exploit isolation and call into question science and the credibility of the health authorities.”

The bill, which consists of seven articles, takes account of the omnipresent nature of health in sectarian aberrations. A quarter of all reports to MIVILUDES revolve around this subject. This is why the text introduces a new offence, that of “provocation to abandon or abstain from care or to adopt practices that clearly expose the person targeted to a serious or immediate risk to their health.” The idea is to “punish the practices that are most dangerous to people’s health, paying particular attention to practices relating to well-being, treatment and diet.”

Article 4 proved controversial from the very beginning, for the severe limitations it seemed to place on freedom of expression. In its original form, it read as follows:

Encouragement to abandon or refrain from therapeutic or prophylactic medical treatment is punishable by one year’s imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 Euros, when such abandonment or abstention is presented as beneficial to the health of the persons targeted; and when, in the light of medical knowledge, it is clearly likely to have serious consequences for their physical or mental health, given the pathology from which they suffer.

The same penalties shall apply to incitement to adopt practices that are presented as having a therapeutic or prophylactic purpose for the persons targeted when it is clear, in light of medical knowledge, that these practices expose them to an immediate risk of death or injury likely to result in permanent mutilation or disability. The Ultimate Guide to ... Sloan, Mark Best Price: $8.66 Buy New $7.73 (as of 01:14 UTC - Details)

When the incitement provided for in the first two paragraphs has been followed by action, the penalties are increased to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 Euros.

When these offences are committed via the written or audiovisual media, the specific provisions of the laws governing these matters apply as regards determining who is liable.

The Social Affairs Committee of the French Senate did not like Article 4, and they deleted it, substituting a different text (Article 4A) toughening penalties for the illegal practice of medicine. In French politics, however, the National Assembly has the last word. There, an initial attempt to restore Article 4 failed on Tuesday, over objections that it could chill scientific debate and silence pharmaceutical whistleblowers. What passed on Wednesday was Article 4 in a newer, amended form. In this final text of the law, incitements to alternative treatment no longer constitute an offence if they are “accompanied by clear and comprehensive information about their consequences for health,” and if it can be proven that the incited parties exercised “free and informed consent.” The amended article also includes an explicit whistleblower exception.

The law passed over the strong objections of the left-populists of Le France Insoumise, of the liberal-conservative Republicans and of Le Pen’s Rassemblement Nationale. During the debate, the former Covid-era French Health Minister Olivier Véran defended the law with explicit reference to Raoult. Despite its clear pandemic inspiration, however, Article 4 is cast so broadly that it could be used to target everyone from chiropractors to homeopaths to nutritional supplement enthusiasts.

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