PARIS (Reuters) - A group of French celebrities including singer Charles Aznavour and actress Catherine Deneuve have signed a petition against a socialist proposal to punish clients of prostitutes.
Next week, a French parliament committee will review a proposal by the ruling socialist party faction to scrap sanctions on soliciting and instead punish prostitutes' customers with fines. Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal in December.
"Without supporting or promoting prostitution, we refuse the criminalization of people who prostitute themselves and those who use their services," some 70 French celebrities, including former socialist culture minister Jack Lang, said in a statement published in French media on Saturday.
Ageing French singer Antoine, who took the initiative for the petition, told French daily Le Figaro the government should continue fighting sexual slavery but should not criminalize prostitution and that those who prostitute themselves should have the same rights as other workers.
Prostitution is not illegal in France, which has an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 prostitutes according to a 2012 report by the Scelles Foundation, but there are laws against pimping, human trafficking and soliciting sex in public.
Tolerance for prostitution in France lies in a middle ground between attitudes in the Netherlands and Germany, where registered sex workers pay taxes and receive health benefits, and Sweden, where tough laws target clients.
France's minister for women's rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, caused a stir last year by saying she would seek to make prostitution disappear by punishing those who pay for sex, rather than the prostitutes themselves.
Singer Alain Souchon, who also signed the petition, said the government should not intervene with those who have chosen to prostitute themselves for easy money.
"Let them do what they want. They give tender services to so many lost souls. Leave them their clients," he told Le Figaro.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq)