Marine Le Pen faces court on charge of inciting racial hatred
French Front National party leader compared Muslims praying in streets due to mosque shortages to a Nazi occupation
by Kim Willsher
September 22, 2015
Marine Le Pen, the president of France's far-right Front National party, is to appear in court for allegedly inciting racial hatred over comments in which she compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation.
The FN leader made the comments in a speech during a party rally in Lyon in 2010. Asked on Tuesday about being summoned to appear in court on 20 October, Le Pen told Agence France-Presse: "Of course, I'm not going to miss such an occasion."
Later, she told Europe 1 it was "scandalous to be prosecuted for having a political opinion in the country of freedom of expression".
At the time she made the remarks, Le Pen was campaigning to become FN president, succeeding her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, himself no stranger to charges of provoking racial hatred.
At the rally, Le Pen made reference to "street prayers" after reports of Muslims praying in public in three French cities, including Paris, because of a lack of mosques or a lack of space in local prayer rooms. The French government later clamped down on the "illegal" use of the public space for prayers.
"I'm sorry, but for those who really like to talk about the second world war, if we're talking about occupation, we can also talk about this while we're at it, because this is an occupation of territory," she told supporters, prompting waves of applause.
"It's an occupation of swaths of territory, of areas in which religious laws apply ... for sure, there are no tanks, no soldiers, but it's an occupation all the same and it weighs on people."
Despite numerous complaints from anti-racist organisations, a preliminary inquiry by the authorities in Lyon was dropped in 2011. However, one association pursued the legal complaint, and when the European parliament lifted Le Pen's parliamentary immunity in July 2013, a preliminary inquiry was opened. In September 2014, the prosecutor's office announced she would be sent before a judge.
As of 2011, Jean-Marie Le Pen's speeches had led to 18 convictions, five for repeating that the Holocaust was a mere "point of detail" of the second world war.
Marine Le Pen has been credited with "de-demonising" the FN and throwing out its more xenophobic and extremist elements since taking control of the party in January 2011. Critics accused her of swapping the FN's historic antisemitism for Islamophobia.
On Tuesday, Le Pen's deputy, Florian Philippot, reacted angrily on Twitter to her summons. "The only people who should be sent before the court are those who allow prayers in the street that are illegal and against the principle of secularism!" he wrote.
Philippot accused the French authorities of trying to smear Le Pen before regional elections to be held in December.
Le Pen also expressed her anger on Twitter. "We're quicker to prosecute those who denounce the illegal behaviour of fundamentalists ... than to prosecute the fundamentalists behaving illegally," she wrote.
The penalty for inciting racial hatred in France is up to a year in prison and a €45,000 fine.
Related Topics: Hate Speech Laws
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