The French Parliament stripped the immunity of Marine Le Pen, the National Front (FN) leader and deputy representing Pas-de-Calais, on November 8. She will now face prosecution for posting graphic images of Islamic State (ISIS) executions and will be required to appear in court.
In December 2015, Le Pen published three photographs on Twitter, one of which showed the decapitated body of American journalist James Foley. Another image showed a tank running over a man and another being burned alive in a cage.
Le Pen posted such images in response to BFM-TV reporter Jean-Jacques Bourdin’s inflammatory statement comparing FN to ISIS. Bourdin then interviewed Gilles Kepel, an Islam specialist, on his latest book analysing the evolution of jihadism, and asked Kepel about the connection between French jihadism and the rise of the FN.
“Of course, it is not the same thing, but they are two phenomena which participate a little in the same adjustment, they resemble each other,” Kepel said.
Le Pen promptly deleted the tweet after public outcry and a demand from Foley’s family, claiming she did not know the victim’s identity. However, it sparked a judicial investigation, as the dissemination of violent images, for which Le Pen is currently under investigation, is a French crime punishable by a potentially large fine and up to three years in prison.
In response, Le Pen used her parliamentary immunity to avoid summons and subpoenas from investigators and judges, a tactic she previously used when a member of the European Parliament (MEP). The European Parliament removed her immunity in March, and a cross-party committee composed of 22 deputies in the National Assembly recently took-away the protection bestowed on serving deputies.
On Twitter, Le Pen responded to losing her immunity by saying, “Better to be a jihadist who returns from Syria than an MP who denounces the abjection of the Islamic State: one takes fewer judicial risks.”
This latest development further weakens Le Pen and FN, which is still recovering from a bruising electoral defeat at the hands of Emmanuel Macron and his En Marche! party. FN is currently experiencing severe infighting, most of it aimed at Le Pen, who also faces accusations of misusing EU funds while an MEP.
The day her immunity was removed, Le Pen issued a statement accusing the committee of displaying a “clearly stated desire to persecute a political opponent and to try to muzzle the person who embodies the opposition and the alternative to the ruling power.” She says she plans to use the trial as an “opportunity to denounce publicly the monstrous actions of the Islamic State but also to denounce the failures of the authorities.”