PARIS – French far-right leader Marine Le Pen was acquitted on Tuesday in a criminal case involving graphic photographs of Islamic State violence that she posted on Twitter in 2015 after comparisons between the group and his party.
Ms. Le Pen, leader of the Rassemblement national party, was acquitted by a court in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris. The charge against her – spreading violent messages – carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros, or about 90,000 dollars, but prosecutors did not requested that a fine of 5,000 euros.
Rodolphe Bosselut, Ms. Le Pen’s lawyer in this case, said: “The court ruled that by publishing the photos, she was exercising her freedom of expression.” He added that the ruling underscored that the messages were clearly not Islamic State propaganda and instead had “informative value.”
Prosecutors opened their investigation in December 2015, shortly after Ms Le Pen – enraged at a television interview in which a French journalist compared her party to the Islamic State – posted three photos on Twitter showing killings by the group. One showed the body of James Foley, an American journalist who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and then beheaded by the group.
Ms Le Pen deleted the post after criticism from Mr Foley’s family, but the other two photos, which showed a man in an orange jumpsuit crushed by a tank and a prisoner burned alive in a cage, have remained online.
“Daesh is THAT!” she wrote, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
The photos – published just weeks after a series of deadly terrorist attacks in and around Paris – have sparked outrage in France.
Ms Le Pen lost to President Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 elections in France, and her party has a limited presence in parliament. But she is still seen as Mr Macron’s main opponent on the national political scene, and the verdict will most likely help her prospects in next year’s presidential elections, with early polls suggesting she will face Mr Macron again in the next year. of a second round.
The assassination of a policeman by a radicalized Tunisian last month in a city southwest of Paris has fueled a resurgent debate over terrorism, security and immigration, all themes that have fueled the rise of the government. Ms. Le Pen’s far-right party, despite Mr. Macron’s attempts to woo voters on these issues.
Voters on the left and on the right have often cast aside political difference to oppose far-right candidates, but that roadblock has also appeared increasingly fragile, and Ms Le Pen has spent years trying to soften its image and take advantage of the extremist fringe towards the mainstream.
Unlike other French politicians who have recently been convicted of serious charges such as corruption or embezzlement, Ms. Le Pen has been prosecuted under a more obscure section of the French penal code which prohibits the dissemination of messages ” violent ”or likely to“ seriously undermine human dignity. And it could be seen by a minor.
While freedom of expression is strongly supported, the laws governing freedom of expression in France are often seen as more restrictive than those in the United States, with laws against calls to violence or hate speech.
Ms Le Pen called the investigation a political witch-hunt aimed at silencing her, arguing that she was wrongly prosecuted for exercising her freedom of expression, on charges normally intended to protect minors from violent propaganda or pornography.
“The crime attacks human dignity, not its photographic reproduction,” she said during the trial, which was held in February.
Gilbert Collard, a lawyer and representative of the National Rally in the European Parliament who also published photos of Islamic State violence on the same day as Ms. Le Pen, was also acquitted of the charges against him on Tuesday.
The court’s verdict on Ms. Le Pen comes in an increasingly heated political climate in France, before the presidential elections scheduled for next year but also the regional elections in June.