French far-right candidate Le Pen loses EU immunity over Islamic State atrocity tweets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 10:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 10:50pm

The European Parliament on Thursday lifted French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s immunity from prosecution over her tweeting of images of Islamic State atrocities.

The result is clear, a big majority is in favour of the lifting of immunity
Acting parliament speaker Dimitrios Papadimoulis

The move paves the way for France to pursue a case against the far right National Front leader, after prosecutors launched a probe in 2015 over the graphic pictures, which included the decapitated body of US journalist James Foley.

“The result is clear, a big majority is in favour of the lifting of immunity,” acting parliament speaker Dimitrios Papadimoulis said. The ruling is effective immediately for Le Pen, a National Front MEP, European Parliament officials told AFP.

But the decision concerns only the tweets, and not a separate probe into allegations that Le Pen misused public funds when hiring a parliamentary aide, they said.

The development is the latest twist in France’s dramatic presidential election campaign, coming a day after rightwing candidate Francois Fillon vowed to continue his bid for power despite the fact he is to be charged over his own fake jobs scandal.

Le Pen addressed the tweets in 2015 to a French television journalist who had likened her party to the jihadist group.

The images were tweeted with the caption “This is Daesh” (an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group). They showed Foley’s bloodied body with his decapitated head on his torso, as well as a man on fire in a cage, and a victim being driven over by a tank.

Police in the Paris suburb of Nanterre launched an investigation into “the dissemination of violent images”.

Le Pen dismissed the inquiry as a “political” attempt to derail her presidential bid, in which she is predicted to win the election’s first round in April but lose a run-off in May.

“I sent two or three photos of Daesh atrocities and I said ‘This is Daesh.’ I denounced this atrocity,” she told French broadcasters on Thursday ahead of the EU vote.

“Why investigate me and not others? I am a lawmaker and I was denouncing Daesh in my role as a lawmaker,” she added. “It’s a political inquiry.”

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On Tuesday Le Pen criticised efforts to lift her immunity as “part of the system that wants to stop the French people’s candidate that I am”.

Le Pen has so far refused to attend a police interview over the investigation into her tweets.

French police have also opened a probe against Gilbert Collard, a National Front lawmaker in France, who tweeted a similar violent image on the same day.

Last month the French national assembly refused to consider a request to lift his immunity after deciding it was not “sufficiently specific”.

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Foley, a freelance journalist, was captured in Syria in 2012 and beheaded in August 2014.

His bereaved parents John and Diane said they wanted the images removed immediately, accusing Le Pen in a statement of using the “shamefully uncensored” picture for political ends.

While Le Pen is forecast to finish first in the first round of the April 23 election, her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron is considered the favourite to win a run-off vote on May 7.