France far-right leader Marine Le Pen has been placed under formal investigation on suspicion of circulating “violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity”, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Thursday.
If the investigation leads to a trial, Le Pen could be sentenced to three years in prison and 75,000 Euros (over $92,000) for photos she tweeted shortly after the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, which resulted in 130 deaths. France’s National Assembly took a vote in fall, lifting the immunity that was protecting Le Pen from prosecution.
Calling the investigation “political interference,” Le Pen told a French TV channel, “If they are trying to silence me, they will not succeed.”
Back in 2015, Le Pen’s party had suffered a humiliating loss in regional elections, and a French journalist compared her far-right Front National party to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS — also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh).
She took to Twitter to respond. “Daesh is THIS,” Le Pen wrote, posting a photo a man being run over by a tank and another being burned alive. She also tweeted a photo of the body of American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by the self-proclaimed Islamic State in 2014.
Foley’s parents, John and Diane, released a statement in response to Le Pen using the image of their dead son: “Our family was informed this morning that Marine Le Pen, a French politician, tweeted a shamefully uncensored picture of our son. We are deeply disturbed by the unsolicited use of Jim for Le Pen’s political gain and hope that the picture of our son, along with the two other graphic photographs, are taken down immediately.”
President Donald Trump has also been criticized for tweeting inflammatory messages, notably, in November, when he retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, a far-right group in the United Kingdom. Fransen’s account has since been suspended.
Trump came under fire from British Prime Minister Theresa May, and, in a tweet that has apparently been deleted, replied, “.@Theresa_May, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!”
The U.S. First Amendment protects Trump from the sort of investigation Le Pen is facing.
The French judge’s decision to formally escalate the investigation into her tweets comes at a crucial time for Le Pen: the National Front’s annual congress is just over a week away (March 10 and 11), with the party trying to regroup after being crushed by Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche! party in May’s parliamentary elections.
Le Pen is even considering rebranding the party founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen 45 years ago, with a new name.
Reuters reports, however, that the investigation is unlikely to have a negative impact on Le Pen within her party:
Other ongoing investigations, including one into allegations her party misused European Union funds to pay parliamentary assistants and another into the financing of past election campaigns, have not dented her appeal among the National Front faithful. She has denied any wrongdoing in both cases.
The day before she tweeted the images of ISIS executions, Le Pen was acquitted on charges of inciting hatred after comments she made in 2010, when she compared Muslim public prayers to a Nazi occupation. “…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. 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,” she said.
According to The Guardian, Le Pen’s father “has several convictions for the offense [hate speech], including a conviction for contesting crimes against humanity after saying the Nazi occupation of France was not ‘particularly inhumane.'”