French far-right politician Marine Le Pen has gone on trial for posting pictures of Islamic State (IS) atrocities on social media.
The President of the National Rally (RN) is accused of breaking hate speech laws by tweeting three images in December 2015 alongside the words “Daesh, that’s it!”
Le Pen claims the tweets were published in response to a journalist who drew a comparison between her party and IS. The dispute came just weeks after 130 people were killed by jihadists in the Paris terror attacks.
One of the pictures showed the body of James Foley, an American journalist who was beheaded by Islamic militants in 2014. Le Pen later deleted the picture of Foley after a request from his family, saying she had been unaware of his identity.
Gilbert Collard, an MEP for the National Rally, is also on trial in Nanterre for distributing other gruesome photos of IS actions online.
In 2018 a judge charged the two with circulating “violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity” and that can be seen by children. The crime is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of €75,000.
Le Pen, who was a candidate in the 2017 French Presidential election, has said the trial as a “scent of persecution” and has slammed the case as a violation of free speech.
She was stripped of her parliamentary immunity over the pictures and refused an order to undergo psychiatric tests as part of the inquiry
“Marine Le Pen had no intention, nor even any awareness, of endangering any minor,” her lawyer David Dassa-Le Deist told AFP, adding “she was responding to an attack, a provocation, by a journalist.”
The trial was initially scheduled for 2019 but was postponed twice, at the request of the defence and then subsequently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wednesday’s hearing comes as opinion polls indicate that Le Pen will likely face off again against Emmanuel Macron in next year’s presidential contest. On Thursday, the far-right leader is set to face off against Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin in a primetime television debate.
“This is a political trial,” said Jean-Marc Descoubes, Gilbert Collard’s lawyer, “it should be remembered that at the time we were one year away from the presidential election, the context was extremely tense.”
The French courts have rejected appeals against the lifting of Collard’s parliamentary immunity and he now intends to refer the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.
Marine Le Pen is also facing allegations claims that RN party officials improperly spent almost €7 million in public funds between 2009 and 2017 to pay their assistants while serving in the European Parliament. An eventual trial date has not yet been set.