EU Parliament lifts Le Pen immunity over gruesome tweets
PARIS - The European Parliament voted Thursday to lift the immunity from prosecution for French far-right leader Marine Le Pen for tweeting gruesome images of Islamic State violence, a crime that carries up to three years in prison in France.
The legislature voted by a broad majority in Brussels to clear the way for the possible prosecution of Le Pen over tweets she made in December 2015 showing executions, including the killing of American reporter James Foley by Islamic State extremists.
French prosecutors in the city of Nanterre had asked lawmakers to lift the immunity that Le Pen enjoys as a member of the European Parliament.
Le Pen, a leading candidate in this year's French presidential election, posted her tweets in response to a journalist who drew an analogy between her anti-immigration National Front party and IS extremists. She was trying to show the difference between the two groups but the effort backfired, drawing widespread condemnation.
Le Pen took down the tweet showing the killing of Foley after his family protested, but left up another image of violence by Islamic State extremists.
Under French law, publishing violent images can be punished by up to three years in jail and a fine of 75,000 euros ($78,800).
Before the vote, Le Pen on Thursday defended her tweets, saying she just wanted to condemn the barbaric practices of IS, also known as Daesh.
“I'm a lawmaker. I'm in my role when I condemn Daesh, this is my role,” she told French TV station LCP. “And if I don't fulfil my role, I'm worth nothing as a lawmaker. Nobody can prevent a republic's representative from condemning Daesh's acts of violence.”
Her campaign manager, David Rachline, denounced the lawmakers' actions.
The EU parliament decision “marks the difference between those who denounce and fight Islamist fundamentalism and those who want to hide the atrocities,” Rachline said.
The lifting of Le Pen's immunity does not relate to another corruption case centred on her aide at the European Parliament, who is suspected of being paid from EU money while working on her party's behalf. Le Pen's chief of staff, Catherine Griset, was handed a preliminary charge of receiving money through a breach of trust.
The campaign to replace France's unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande has also been rocked by corruption allegations targeting another top contender, conservative candidate Francois Fillon.
Fillon, a former prime minister and once the front-runner in France's two-round April-May presidential election, announced Wednesday that he was summoned to appear before judges on March 15 for allegedly using taxpayers' money to pay family members for jobs that may not have existed. Fillon, however, vowed to stay in the race.
Fillon's troubles have benefited centrist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, who on Thursday announced his policy platform, including boosting European unity and combating populism and corruption.
To counter the growing political scandals, Macron said he wants to shrink the size of parliament, introduce term limits and ban officials from hiring family members.
He wants to continue good security co-operation with the U.S. despite his ideological differences with Donald Trump. Macron on Thursday called Trump's skepticism toward the Paris Agreement to fight global warming “a deep mistake” and expressed opposition to Trump's proposed U.S. protectionist trade measures.
Macron said he would not comment on Le Pen's situation, then added “fortunately our national and European institutions are not losing their common sense.”
The top two vote-getters in France's April 23 presidential ballot move on to compete in the May 7 presidential runoff. Others in the running include Socialist Benoit Hamon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.