Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s Front National (FN) party, will stand trial over historic comments she made comparing Muslim street prayers to the wartime occupation of France.
Marine Le Pen’s former lawyer and FN party treasurer, Wallerand de Saint Just, has confirmed prosecutors in Lyon will send her to trial on 20 October on charges of inciting racial hatred, reports the Evening Express.
Saint Just framed the issue as a question of freedom of speech, saying: “Political leaders must be able to speak without being afraid of being taken before a judge.”
Le Pen made the comments during her 2010 campaign to take over the FN’s leadership from the party founder, her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. According to France 24, when addressing a rally of supporters in Lyon she said:
“I’m sorry, but for those who really like to talk about World War II, if we’re talking about an occupation, we could talk about the [street prayers], because that is clearly an occupation of territory.
“It is an occupation of sections of the territory, of neighborhoods in which religious law applies – it is an occupation. There are no tanks, there are no soldiers, but it is an occupation nevertheless, and it weighs on people.”
After the initial investigation into Le Pen’s comments was closed in 2011, the case was reopened in 2012 following a legal complaint by a rights group. She was then put under formal investigation in July 2014, after immunity granted her as a member of the European Parliament was removed following a vote requested by French authorities in 2013.
The trial for “inciting discrimination over people’s religious beliefs” has been described as “a scandal” by Le Pen.
She said: “It is a scandal that a political leader can be sued for expressing her beliefs. Those who denounce the illegal behaviour of fundamentalists are more likely to be sued than the fundamentalists who behave illegally.”
Le Pen believes her views are those of the majority and that being stripped of her immunity brings “to the fore the issue of daily violations against secularism in France”.
As Breitbart London previously reported Le Pen has attempted to modernise the anti-EU, anti-mass immigration party her father once led in order to give her the best chance of presidential run in 2017. She wants the party to be defined by its opposition to the EU and a defence of secularism, not her father’s xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
December’s local elections were intended to maintain that direction, adding momentum to her presidential ambitions. Some commentators say the trial, taking place weeks before the local elections, could harm Le Pen’s chances of winning as expected in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. Others have expressed doubts as to whether the trial is the right move.
“She will no doubt try to turn this to her advantage and make herself out to be the victim of some kind of plot between the mainstream parties, who have had her right to free speech taken away from her,” Jean-Yves Camus told The Local, “if they really wanted to deal with Marine Le Pen it would have been much wiser for the mainstream political parties to just concentrate on themselves and on what they say. For example, the more the centre-right party talks about Islam the more they give legitimacy to the National Front.”