French authorities have charged a suspected organiser of an illegal new year rave at which 2,400 people defied coronavirus rules, in a decision condemned by his supporters as an injustice.
The wildcat rave party in Brittany shocked the country as people continued to observe strict bans on gatherings to battle the coronavirus.
The man, 22 and homeless, was arrested on Saturday in the van where he was living west of the city of Rennes and then charged late on Tuesday with organising an illegal event and putting the lives of others in danger, said the Rennes prosecutor Philippe Astruc.
He was also remanded in custody, given the risk of communicating with other organisers of the event, Astruc added.
The man’s lawyer, Remi Cassette, said his client denied being one of the organisers while acknowledging that he had taken part in the event and “given a hand” with the organisation.
Astruc said the 22-year-old was not the only suspected organiser and at least three or four more remained at large.
The images of the rave shocked France owing not only to the violation of rules on gatherings and social distancing but also the failure of the local authorities to prevent it from taking place.
Astruc said about 800 vehicles had brought participants to the event, admission to which cost €5, and that some people had come from as far as Italy, Spain and Poland.
“All these elements point to a significant logistical organisation and coordination,” he said.
But a statement by a group backing those who took part called for the man to be freed immediately and for a rally of support in Rennes on Saturday.
“It doesn’t matter if this person is really connected with the organising. What we know is that it is inconceivable for someone to go to prison for letting women and men dance,” it said.
In an op-ed in for the French daily Libération, a group claiming to be the organisers of the event wrote that they were “proud” to have allowed people to see in the new year in happiness, and it was responding to the call of those who were “not satisfied with an existence punctuated only by work, consumption and screens, alone at home in the evening”.