In 1898, Alfred Dreyfus, a jewish staff officer in the French army, was sentenced to lifelong penal servitude on charges of espionage.
It was a witch hunt kicked off by the discovery of a suspicious document, and Dreyfus was convicted in a secret military tribunal on the loose testimony of handwriting experts who cited "the lack of resemblance to Dreyfus' writing as proof of a 'self-forgery'". Found guilty of treason, Dreyfus was denied the right to examine the evidence presented against him - in a miscarriage of justice that caught the attention of Emile Zola, a prominitent French writer and political activist.
Zola would go on to publish a scathing accuasation of judicial error and anti-semitism on the part of the French government, published as an open letter on the front page of the L'Aurore newspaper. Detailing the failings of the investigation, the inadequecy of the evidence, and the social tension surrounding the Jewish population, he wrote:
"These, Sir, are the facts that explain how this miscarriage of justice came about; The evidence of Dreyfus's character, his affluence, the lack of motive and his continued affirmation of innocence combine to show that he is the victim of the lurid imagination of Major du Paty de Clam, the religious circles surrounding him, and the 'dirty Jew' obsession that is the scourge of our time."
The publication of the J'accuse letter led to Zola's prosecution and conviction on a charge of libel. In June of 1899, Zola fled to England to avoid imprisionment. Later that year, Dreyfus would be afforded a retrial, where he was found guilty, but pardoned. It wasn't until 1906, four years after Zola's death, that Dreyfus would recieve annulment of the charge and be awarded the Cross of the Légion d'honneur - for "a soldier who has endured an unparallelled martyrdom.”