French political leader on trial for inciting hatred

Marine Le Pen in court in Lyon yesterday. "I have committed no crime," she insisted.
Marine Le Pen in court in Lyon yesterday. "I have committed no crime," she insisted.

LYON • Ms Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front, went on trial yesterday on charges of inciting hatred after comparing Muslim street prayers to the Nazi occupation.

The 47-year-old, who has won a string of election successes after working to soften the image of her party, appeared in a court in the central city of Lyon over the comments she made while campaigning to take over the leadership of the party from her father five years ago.

"I have committed no crime," said a smiling Le Pen as she entered the court. If convicted, she faces up to a year in prison or a fine of up to €45,000 (S$70,700).

While on the campaign trail in December 2010, Le Pen complained about places in France where Muslims worshipped in the streets outside mosques when they were full.

"I'm sorry, but for those who like talking a lot about World War II, if it comes to talking about the occupation, we can talk about it, because that (Muslims praying on the street) is the occupation of territory," she told a crowd in Lyon.

"It is an occupation of part of the territory, suburbs where religious law is applied.

"Sure, there are no armoured vehicles, no soldiers, but it is an occupation nonetheless and it weighs on residents."

After the comments, which provoked outrage in France, she was investigated, but the probe was later closed without further action.

However, a complaint by an association led to the launch of a judicial inquiry in January 2012.

She was charged in July 2014 after her immunity as a member of the European Parliament was lifted following a vote requested by the French authorities.

She is accused of "inciting discrimination, violence or hatred toward a group of people based on their religious beliefs".

French Muslim Council secretary-general Abdallah Zekri said that it was "such comments often made by politicians that feed the climate of Islamophobia we currently live in".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'French political leader on trial for inciting hatred'. Print Edition | Subscribe