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PARIS — A number of French healthcare professionals and scientists publicly denounced the violence, death threats, doxing, and physical attacks they have endured during the past 18 months because of the actions they've taken to try to prevent and treat COVID-19.
During a Stop the Hate press conference, they called on public authorities to take action against the proliferation of threats.
"Does something tragic need to happen before action is taken?" they ask in an op-ed published before the press conference, on August 31, in the French newspaper L'Express.
The group — which includes Karine Lacombe, MD, PhD, head of the Infectious and Tropical Diseases Department at Saint-Antoine Hospital in Paris, and Jérôme Marty, MD, president of the French Union for the Free Practice of Medicine (UFMLS) — is routinely targeted on social media for their scientific and medical stances on COVID. Most recently, they were named in a blog post on the controversial news site France Soir, which was entitled "COVID-19 (Diagnosis, Treatment, Vaccines): Rundown of a Scam," and signed by "The Rebel Physician."
Although the language used in the blog post reflects standard conspiracy messaging, asserting that we are "well and truly facing a worldwide structure reminiscent of the Vichy government," the author goes on to point the finger at specific individuals and organizations. The French Order of Physicians and various regional health agencies were also targeted.
These individuals, already tired and vulnerable from fighting COVID, have been "thrown to the wolves," Marty asserted during the press conference, which was organized by the association Citizen4Science, the collective FakeMed, UFMLS, and Citizens United for Science and Health.
But what prompted the group to hold the press conference was the conclusion in the original France Soir blog post that read: "A trial must be held. La Veuve [The Widow] is losing patience. Enough said."
"'La Veuve' here unambiguously refers to an old nickname given initially to the gallows and then, during the French Revolution, to the guillotine," the group writes in their op-ed. "The blog post clearly ends with an incitement to hatred and a call for the death sentence. In other words, it's an explicit death threat targeting each of us by name."
"We are individually and collectively disturbed by these threats and the real risk that radicalized people will act upon them. This post by France Soir marks a turning point in this upsurge of threats and violence, with an actual incitement to commit criminal acts," they point out. "We equally denounce those who are sharing and applauding this publication on social media, some of whom are public figures with large audiences, like Didier Raoult, who has nearly 840,000 followers on Twitter, and Idriss Aberkane (with nearly 100,000 followers), who has suggested investing in guillotines."
"As things stand," they continue, "the tendency of certain people to blindly follow the ideas of the figures they follow is being ignored. Keep in mind that making death threats and inciting hatred or criminal acts are all criminal offenses."
The associations and collectives that participated in the press conference demanded that the France Soir post be publicly condemned by government authorities, that public subsidies given to France Soir be stopped, and that protection be provided to the people on the receiving end of these death threats.
Inciting Hatred, Death Threats, and Violations of Privacy
During a shocking slideshow, Marty revealed a number of threats made against various doctors and scientists over the past few months.
A tweet from Lacombe included an excerpt from a letter that she had received, which said: "We've been following you for a while now, in the car, at home, on the go. Trash gets disposed of. Bitches like you get burned to ashes, you and your three bastard children…"
Another threatening tweet, against Franck Clarot, MD, forensic pathologist, radiologist, vice president of the French National Federation of Radiology Physicians, and member of the On the Side of Science collective, reads: "And the bullet I'm going to blast into your head, how are you going to stop that?"
There was also the physical assault, caught on camera, of Alexander Samuel, PhD, member of the grassroots Yellow Vests movement, and a math and science teacher who has been attending meetings where conspiracy messaging is propagated for the purpose of countering fake news.
And, topping it off, was the publication on Twitter of the home address of Nathan Peiffer-Smadja, PhD, from Bichat University Hospital and the INSERM IAME laboratory in Paris, by Eric Chabrière, MD, IHU-Méditerranée Infection and Aix Marseille University in Marseille, France, who regularly references Nazism in his tweets.
Repeated Pleas for Action
The press conference was not the first cry for action to be taken, as the authors of the op-ed point out. They reference a letter written by Peiffer-Smadja "lamenting the harassment of scientists" that was published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, and an op-ed by Lacombe and others "on the harassment of female scientists," published in the Lancet in late 2020.
In addition, the op-ed authors cite "a petition created on May 5, 2021, in conjunction with Citizen4Science's solemn plea to the public authorities and agencies to urgently intervene, to put a stop to the harassment of scientific spokespeople coming from the Marseille IHU [where Didier Raoult used to work] and its supporters." The plea, which included a specific set of requests, was made to the government by Senator Bernard Jomier in a written inquiry published in the Official Journal of the French Republic.
To date, the government has not responded, aside from a letter by Olivier Véran, MD, French Minister of Health, sent on August 11 to the chairs of various professional boards, condemning all reported acts of aggression and anyone who seeks to harm healthcare professionals. He also pointed out that any acts of violence would be subject to motions for prosecution; however, collectives and associations of physicians have deemed the letter insufficient, deploring a "lack of response from government agencies."
This article originally appeared in the French Edition of Medscape.
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Cite this: French Doctors and Scientists Denounce Harassment, Threats - Medscape - Sep 17, 2021.