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French Protesters Demand Justice After High Court's Murder Ruling

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some people will find this next story disturbing from the very beginning. It lasts about three minutes. French protesters want justice after a high court ruling on a killing. In 2017, Sarah Halimi, who was Jewish, was beaten and thrown out of her window by a neighbor who called her a demon. Investigating judges say the murderer had anti-Semitic motives. But they decided he should not stand trial because he was in a state of, quote, "psychotic delirium." Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Speaking French).

(APPLAUSE)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Tens of thousands of people gathered across France Sunday to protest the ruling by France's Cour de cassation. Gwendolyn Dekermol was among protesters in Paris' Trocadero Plaza. She says this ruling after the horrific killing of Sarah Halimi is incomprehensible.

GWENDOLYN DEKERMOL: She has been tortured, then thrown through a window. And the judges and the expert decided that he was not able to be aware of what he was doing, that he had been smoking marijuana. And he has psychological problems. He was not completely responsible.

BEARDSLEY: At the Paris rally, people wore stickers with a picture of a joint that said smoke one and get high, smoke 10 and get off. They were mocking the court's decision that 27-year-old Kobili Traore was in a psychotic, drug-heightened state when he killed Halimi so he could not stand trial.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: The court ruled there was evidence to show that her killing was anti-Semitic. Traore, a Muslim immigrant from Mali, had shouted Allahu akbar and called Halimi a dirty Jew before pushing her out the window of her Paris apartment. At the rally, a large video screen showed all the French Jewish victims of radical Islamists in recent years. Protester Nicolas Hirschmann says there's a wave of anti-Semitism coming from parts of the Muslim community in France, especially in poor neighborhoods.

NICOLAS HIRSCHMANN: I'm afraid that the French government, the French people, does not see that strong anti-Semitism in France.

BEARDSLEY: Hirschmann also thinks French justice may be afraid to call out Muslim anti-Semitism. France's Muslim leaders have denounced the high court's decision. And President Emmanuel Macron's government says it will present a law next month to keep such a ruling from happening again.

HAIM KORSIA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Haim Korsia is the grand rabbi of France. He doesn't think the French justice system is anti-Semitic.

KORSIA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: But things are complicated by the fact that some of those who are anti-Semitic today are themselves victims of racism, says Korsia. So you have people who are victims and guilty at the same time. But Korsia says he's heartened by the national mobilization for Halimi, and he hopes there will be justice yet.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.