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Le Pen trial: French far-right leader acquitted on hate speech charges

A French court on Tuesday acquitted far-right leader and presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen on charges she broke hate speech laws by tweeting pictures of Islamic State atrocities.

Le Pen trial: French far-right leader acquitted on hate speech charges
Marine Le Pen. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

Le Pen shared the gruesome images in December 2015, a few weeks after Islamic State jihadists killed 130 people in attacks in Paris, in response to a journalist who she accused of drawing a comparison between IS and her party.

One of the pictures showed the body of James Foley, an American journalist beheaded by the Islamist militants.

Another showed a man in an orange jumpsuit being run over by a tank, and the third a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage.

“Daesh is this!” Le Pen wrote in a caption, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

In 2018 a judge charged her, as well as her Rassemblement National (National Rally) party colleague Gilbert Collard 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 crime is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of €75,000, but the prosecution sought only a €5,000 fine.

The court acquitted both Le Pen and Collard on Tuesday, citing the right to freedom of expression.

The court recognised Le Pen’s intention to inform by sharing the images and said doing so can contribute to public debate, as long as violence is not normalised.

“It’s a great victory for law because freedom of expression was at stake in this case,” Le Pen’s lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut told reporters.

“Freedom of expression has been recognised as complete for a top politician,” he added.

The verdict comes as opinion polls show Le Pen will likely face off again against President Emmanuel Macron in next year’s presidential contest, in a repeat of the run-off seen in the last presidential elections in 2017.

Member comments

  1. How she slithered away from this is beyond belief. It makes one wonder what the politics of the “court” were.

  2. I don’t like Marine le Pen, but I support freedom of speech.
    The pictures she posted on twitter were gruesome, I agree, however I feel it’s a good thing for people to see the atrocities caused by IS.
    You could turn away and not look if you prefer, that’s your choice.

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CRIME

Pressure mounts on France’s new disabilities minister to resign over rape allegations

French President Emmanuel Macron's newly appointed disabilities minister was facing mounting pressure to resign on Monday after the emergence of rape allegations from over a decade ago.

Pressure mounts on France's new disabilities minister to resign over rape allegations

The accusations against Damien Abad, which he denies, are a major headache for Macron and his new Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne as they seek to keep political momentum after his April presidential poll victory and ahead of June parliamentary elections.

They also come after several politicians running for parliament stepped down in recent weeks over alleged violence against women.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle on Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right wing opposition.

READ ALSO Who’s who in France’s new government 

But the next day, the Mediapart news site reported a politics watchdog group created by members of France’s MeToo movement had informed prosecutors as well as Macron’s LREM party of rape claims against Abad by two women in 2010 and 2011.

The government’s new spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire on Monday denied that Macron and his government were aware of the allegations when Abad had been appointed.

One of the women told Mediapart that in 2010 she blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in pain with Abad in a hotel room, and believes she may have been drugged.

She has not filed an official complaint, but prosecutors are looking into the case following a report filed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics.

The other woman, named only as Margaux, said that her sexual encounter with Abad in 2011 began as consensual, but accuses him of then forcing anal sex on her.

The report said she informed the police in 2012 but then declined to formally make a complaint, and her subsequent claim in 2017 was later dismissed by prosecutors.

“I’m relieved that it’s come out, because I knocked on quite a few doors so that someone would do something after the case was dismissed, as I thought it was unfair,” Margaux told AFP on Sunday.

“A lot of people knew but some preferred to look away rather than ask more questions,” she added.

Abad said in a statement he contested “in the strongest way” the allegations, arguing his own disability means he is incapable of sexually assaulting anyone.

The newly appointed minister has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints, which he says means sexual relations can only occur with the help of a partner.

The allegations overshadowed the new cabinet’s first meeting on Monday, with Gregoire facing a string of questions on the case.

“The government is with those who, following an assault or harassment, have the immense courage to speak out,” Gregoire told reporters.

She added it is up to the judicial system to establish the truth and that, to her knowledge, “no other procedure against Damien Abad is in the works”.

But politicians on the left called for his immediate resignation.

“If I were prime minister, I would tell Damien Abad: ‘I have no particular reason to believe the women are lying… While we wait for a decision from the judicial system, I wish for you not to be part of the government,'” Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told France Inter radio.

Green politician Sandrine Rousseau also called for Abad to go.

“We need to send a loud enough message to women, that their voices count,” Rousseau told RTL radio.

Borne, herself only appointed last week in the reshuffle, said on Sunday there could be no impunity for harassment and sexual assault.

“If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences,” Borne said.

In 2020, Macron’s decision to appoint Gérald Darmanin as interior minister – although he was accused of rape, sexual harassment and abuse of power – drew heavy criticism, even sparking demonstrations.

Darmanin, who kept his job in the reshuffle, has denied any wrongdoing and prosecutors in January asked for the case to be dropped.

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