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Marine Le Pen loses EU Parliament immunity over ISIS tweets

The European Parliament has lifted French far-right leader Marine Le Pen's immunity from prosecution after she tweeted pictures of ISIS violence

2 March 2017, 1:32pm
EU lawmakers voted to deprive National Front leader Le Pen of her immunity for the tweeting images of ISIS violence
EU lawmakers voted to deprive National Front leader Le Pen of her immunity for the tweeting images of ISIS violence
European Union lawmakers lifted the EU parliamentary immunity of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Thursday for tweeting pictures of Islamic State violence.

EU lawmakers voted to deprive National Front leader Le Pen of her immunity in the case, launched by French prosecutors in 2015 over a graphic series of images of Islamic State executions on Twitter in December of that year, including the beheading of American journalist James Foley.

Le Pen's immunity shielded her from prosecution. By lifting it, after a request from the French judiciary, the parliament is allowing any eventual legal action against her.

"I think the result is clear, a big majority is in favour of the lifting of immunity," acting parliament speaker Dimitrios Papadimoulis said.

The move grants the prosecutor looking into the affair power to bring Le Pen in for police questioning.

In the next steps, the prosecutor could drop the case, appoint an investigating magistrate to delve further into it, or send it straight to trial. A trial date ahead of the election in April and May would require the French legal process to go much faster than it normally does.

The offence being considered is "publishing violent images", which under French law can carry a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of €75,000 under certain circumstances.

European Parliament officials said that the lifting of Le Pen's immunity was effective immediately, but that it concerns only the tweets, and not a separate probe into allegations that Le Pen misused EU funds when hiring a parliamentary aide. Le Pen has already seen her earnings as MEP cut for the latter case.

On Tuesday Le Pen dismissed efforts to lift her immunity as political interference in the campaign, saying it was "part of the system that wants to stop the French people's candidate that I am," and called for a moratorium on judicial investigations until the election period has passed.

Le Pen has so far refused to attend an interview over the tweet investigation with police in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, citing her status as an MEP.

But her senior aide has been placed under formal investigation for "the dissemination of violent images".

Le Pen, who has over 830,000 Twitter followers, addressed the tweets to a French TV journalist whom she accused of likening her party to the jihadist group.

The images were tweeted with the caption "This is Daesh" (an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group) and 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.

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

Polls say Le Pen will win the first of the two election rounds but lose in the runoff. They also show that her legal battles seem to have little effect on her supporters.

The vote on Thursday by a large show of hands in the plenary of the EU Parliament confirmed a preliminary decision taken on Tuesday by the legal affairs committee of the EU legislature.

In the report underpinning parliament's decision, Eurosceptic 5 Star Movement lawmaker Laura Ferrara said that although the images posted by Le Pen were easily accessible on several websites, "this does not alter the fact that their violent nature is likely to undermine human dignity".

Le Pen's move was seen as not appropriate for a member of the European Parliament, the report said.

Le Pen's immunity has been lifted before, in 2013, by the EU parliament. She was then prosecuted in 2015 with "incitement to discrimination over people's religious beliefs", for comparing Muslims praying in public to the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two. Prosecutors eventually recommended the charges be dropped.