French doctors demand protection from death threats at work

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French President Emmanuel Macron, center, flanked with French Education, Youth and Sports Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, right, speaks with children during a visit at Bouge primary school in Malpasse district of Marseille, southern France, Thursday Sept. 2, 2021 as twelve million children in France went back to school Thursday for the new academic year, wearing face masks as part of rules aimed at slowing down the spreading of the virus in the country. French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by several ministers, is on a three-day visit to the southern city of Marseille to address security, education and housing issues. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole, pool)

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PARIS (AP) — French doctors and scientists on Tuesday called on authorities to take action against the insults and threats— including death threats — that they have frequently received during the coronavirus pandemic.

The doctors said they fear that someone from the world of conspiracy theories will take action, not just against them but against other medical professionals, and condemned the silence of authorities.

“It’s months that some of us are receiving, regularly, death threats. Be it via social networks … Twitter, email, by telephone, or by the post. We are targets,” said Jerome Marty, a physician who heads a union for doctors in private practice, UFMLS.

Some doctors like himself receive threats “several times a day,” he said, and some now have bodyguards.

“What we fear is not so much the threats to us personally,” Marty said. Their biggest fear is that “an anonymous doctor, an anonymous nurse, an anonymous scientist, the people fighting today in the face of the (COVID-19) crisis … will be assaulted by someone who takes action.”

Those in the group included medical professionals who often appear on TV to explain the current state of the pandemic to French residents.

Verbal threats were played, one from an anonymous man in Toulouse who said, “Listen, buddy. The population is starting to get angry … So shut your big trap. It’s like you’re looking for it.” Tougher was a threat on social media to one doctor, not present: “And the bullet in your head that I’m going to plant, how are you going to stop it?”

Vulgar insults were scrawled on a note to Karine Lacombe, head of infectious diseases at a Paris’ Saint Antoine Hospital, and once a regular on news shows. “We’ve been following you for a while: car, house, route, garbage is destroyed,” it read in part.

“What shocks me is the impunity that the people who lit the fuse on purpose benefit from, to disturb an established order, to disturb what scientists say, and make the population waver,” Lacombe said. She also expressed shock that the messages are relayed on social media and at weekly anti-health pass demonstrations.

Tens of thousands of people opposed to health passes needed to access restaurants, cafes and other gathering spots, including some opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations, march in cities around France each weekend.

Marty and others claimed the threats come from individuals who are being “manipulated.” He said there are perhaps a dozen to 20 people propelling the threats, but . “We aren’t detectives.”

Damien Barraud, an anaesthetist in Metz, who denounces conspiracy theories linked to the virus on Twitter, said in a Zoom call at the news conference that he received his first threat in April 2020.

But “It’s amplifying now … getting more serious.”

Concerns about the threats grew with the publication last month in France Soir, a daily that has given voice to COVID-19 doubters, of an unsigned commentary taking down the medical establishment over the issue and naming names of doctors and scientists. The commentary, since revised, concluded with a cryptic reference to “La Veuve” (The Widow), a word once used to denote the guillotine. It was the last straw for the collective of doctors and scientists.

Lacombe stressed the need for the political class to “take a stance at some stage and not believe that freedom of speech, which of course must be protected in France, means accepting that there may be some verbal and physical violence.”

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Follow all AP stories on the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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