The farmer who became something of a national hero last year for leading an attack on a McDonald's restaurant was convicted of criminal vandalism Wednesday and sentenced to three months in prison.
Judge Francois Mallet, who delivered the verdict as well as the sentence in the non-jury trial, said he hoped the jail term would make the farmer, Jose Bove, "finally listen to reason."
The sentence was harsher than the token one-month prison sentence, with another nine months suspended, that the prosecutor asked for at the end of Bove's raucous trial in July.
Bove, a sheep farmer who has proved media savvy since his action made him a celebrity, looked somber as he left the courthouse. He vowed to continue his fight against globalization and what he views as bad food.
"It's not the risk of going to prison that is going to stop us from protesting," Bove said on the steps of the courthouse. "The important thing is for the movement to continue to grow whatever the price is that we may have to pay here today."
From the beginning, it was clear that Bove's attack on the U.S. fast food giant had tapped into a deep well of public discontent and a feeling of powerlessness on subjects ranging from genetically modified foods to the power of the U.S. economy.
His particular protest was prompted by the United States' decision to levy high tariffs on Roquefort cheese, pate de foie gras and other luxury imported food in retaliation for the European Union's decision to ban imports of U.S. hormone-treated beef. But it came to represent much more.
During his trial in the small southwestern town of Millau, thousands of supporters showed up. For two days the atmosphere of a French Woodstock prevailed as teenagers with green hair gathered along with middle-aged men with ponytails and retirees wearing T-shirts that read, "The world is not merchandise and I'm not either."
But on Wednesday only a few dozen supporters were on hand in Millau, where the local industry is the production of Roquefort cheese. Few people in France expected Bove, who organized the attack, to be handed a jail term. In this country, protesting is a national pastime and activists are rarely given prison sentences. None of Bove's nine co-defendants were sent to prison. Three were given two-month suspended sentences, five were fined about $300 and one was acquitted.
In a telephone interview, Bove, 47, said he was surprised by the sentence.
"I think this is a very severe judgment," he said. "The magistrate didn't understand the movement or the motivation behind what we did."
Bove said the appeal had already been filed and that the trial would effectively take place again in about one year before the Court of Appeals.
In the meantime, Bove, who has a busy speaking schedule, a far more prominent job with his union and dinner invitations from high-level government officials, said he would keep up with his activities as usual.
The owner of the McDonald's, Marc Dehani, said $120,000 worth of damage was done to his property, which was under construction at the time of the attack.