French far-right presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen is facing three years in prison for tweeting out ‘monstrous’ photographs of an American journalist decapitated by Islamic State.
The leader of the National Rally party appeared in a Paris court today after she was accused of spreading hate by publicising the images of James Foley, who was murdered by the terrorist group in 2014.
French far-right presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen is facing three years in prison for tweeting out ‘monstrous’ photographs of an American journalist decapitated by Islamic State (file)
The far-right leader caused outrage by publicising the images in 2015, soon after a series of devastating al-Qaeda and Islamic State attacks on Paris.
She tweeted the decapitation photo of American journalist James Foley under the caption ‘This is Daesh’ – an Arabic acronym for ISIS – along with another of a man on fire in a cage, and an ISIS victim being crushed by a tank.
‘I am obviously the victim of a political trial,’ Le Pen, 52, told journalists today at the courthouse in Nanterre, a Paris suburb.
‘The media published them, editorialists, newspapers, TV channels, and nobody was ever prosecuted for doing so – only Marine Le Pen is being prosecuted,’ she said.
In 2018 a judge charged her as well as Gilbert Collard, a National Rally colleague who also tweeted the pictures, with ‘circulating violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity and that can be viewed by a minor’.
The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of three years and a fine equivalent to £67,000. The judge will return their verdict on May 4.
Le Pen, who was runner up to Emmanuel Macron in France’s 2017 presidential elections, denies the allegations, and describes them as ‘an attack on freedom of expression.’
The trial comes as opinion polls suggest she is one of the most popular politicians in France and will go head-to-head with President Emmanuel Macron (pictured on February 8, 2021) in the 2022 poll to choose a new head of state
Among those who complained about the French leader’s tweets were Mr Foley’s bereaved parents, John and Diane.
They accused the politician of using the ‘shamefully uncensored’ photos for her own political ends.
They said in a joint statement: ‘We are deeply disturbed by the unsolicited use of Jim for Le Pen’s political gain and hope that the picture of our son, along with the two other graphic photographs, are taken down immediately.’
Le Pen, a lawyer by training, later deleted the picture of Foley after his family’s request, saying she had been unaware of his identity.
But on Wednesday she defended their publication, despite acknowledging that ‘I find these pictures horribly shocking.’
However, ‘It’s the crime that denigrates human dignity, not a picture of it.’
Le Pen also insisted she was the victim of a political witch-hunt – she was stripped of her parliamentary immunity over the pictures, and angrily rejected an order to undergo psychiatric tests as part of the inquiry.
Le Pen had addressed the tweets to BFM TV journalist Jean-Jacques Bourdin, whom she accused of likening her party to the jihadist group.
But on Wednesday she defended their publication, despite acknowledging that ‘I find these pictures horribly shocking’
Manuel Valls, France’s Prime Minister at the time, described the photos as ‘monstrous’, adding that Le Pen had shown ‘political and moral failing’ and her ‘non-respect for victims.’
It was the then Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve who went to the police, saying the tweets should be investigated ‘as they do every time these kind of photos are published’.
He said the photos are ‘Daesh propaganda and are a disgrace, an abomination and an absolute insult to all victims of Daesh.’
At the time, Le Pen’s party was called the National Front (NF), and it has since changed its name to the National Rally.
Despite this, it has historic links with racists and anti-Semites, including Le Pen’s own father, the NF founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, a convicted Holocaust denier.
Le Pen regularly focuses her political campaigns on alleged links between uncontrolled immigration and terrorist groups such as ISIS.
Le Pen was in the dock of the Nanterre criminal court with Gilbert Collard, an MEP and political ally.
‘It’s a political trial,’ said Jean-Marc Descoubes, counsel for Gilbert Collard. ‘We must remember that at the time we were one year away from the presidential election, the context is extremely tense.’
Since taking over France’s main far-right party from her father, Le Pen has run twice for the French presidency, and recent polling shows her closer than ever to what for her would be the ultimate prize.
A poll ahead of next year’s French presidential election has put far-right politician Marine Le Pen (pictured) almost level with President Emmanuel Macron, should they make it to the final round [File photo]
That has rekindled speculation about whether the anti-EU, anti-immigration populist could finally enter the Elysee Palace.
Despite recent setbacks for fellow ideologues such as Donald Trump and Matteo Salvini in Italy, a survey reported last month showed her almost neck-and-neck with Macron.
The poll conducted online by Harris Interactive suggested that if a final-round presidential run-off were held today Le Pen would garner 48 percent while Macron would be re-elected with 52 percent,
It suggested National Rally leader Le Pen would narrowly beat Macron in the first round, gaining 26 to 27 percent of the votes against his 23 to 24 percent.
If accurate, the survey indicates that Macron and Le Pen are set to duel for the presidency for the second time.
The margin, the narrowest ever recorded, set off alarm bells in the French political mainstream as the dual health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic sweep across the country.
On Thursday, Le Pen is set to have a prime-time TV debate with Macron’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, which will be closely watched after critics panned her debate performance against Macron before the 2017 vote.
Le Pen has another legal challenge looming, over claims that she and other party officials improperly spent millions of euros in public funds to pay their assistants while serving in the EU Parliament.
Investigators say almost seven million euros ($7.7 million) was diverted from the European Parliament between 2009 and 2017.
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