Supporters of France’s right-wing anti-immigration Front National (FN) were left angry and stunned on Tuesday when a court in the French South American territory of Guiana sentenced a member of their party to nine months in prison for comparing France’s justice minister, who is black, to a monkey on Facebook.
Anne-Sophie Leclere, a 34-year-old mother of three and a former FN candidate in local elections, was not in the court room in French Guiana’s capital Cayenne, which is 4,500 miles from her home in France, when she was also sentenced to pay a €50,000 (£39,500) fine. The court also ordered the FN to pay a €30,000 (£24,000) fine.
Both Leclere and the FN said they would appeal the sentences. The FN denounced the sentences as “appalling.” The party criticised the trial as a “trap,” as they were unable to find a lawyer in Cayenne to defend it.
A spokesman for the party said: “This must be the one of the harshest sentences handed out in long time for freedom of speech.”
According to an AFP report in the Guardian, the court went well beyond the demands of prosecutors, who had asked for a four-month jail sentence and a €5,000 (£4,000) fine.
The justice minister, Christine Taubira, is from French Guiana. The picture Leclere posted on Facebook last year juxtaposed a photo of a baby monkey with one of the minister. The caption implied the photo of the monkey was a baby picture of Taubira.
At the time, Leclere said she didn’t think the photos were racist and were only meant to imply Taubira is not fit for office. The National Front did however suspend Leclere’s candidacy in the local elections.
Ms Leclere defended her post, insisting Taubira was “a savage,” who was ruining France with her Socialist policies.
Taubira responded that the “deadly and murderous thinking” of the Front National should come as no surprise, accusing them of holding racist views, even if they are not always so public.
That prompted the party to issue a statement, saying it would bring Taubira to justice. Wallerand de Saint-Just, a lawyer for the party, said it would file a complaint for defamation and insults.