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French far-right leader Le Pen acquitted after sharing IS execution images

Court clears politician over posts with pictures of beheaded journalist, captive being run over by truck and Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage

Head of far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) Marine Le Pen, after a hearing in her trial for tweeting in 2015 images of the Islamic State group's atrocities, leaves the courthouse in Nanterre, west of Paris on February 10, 2021.  (Christophe ARCHAMBAULT/AFP)
Head of far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) Marine Le Pen, after a hearing in her trial for tweeting in 2015 images of the Islamic State group's atrocities, leaves the courthouse in Nanterre, west of Paris on February 10, 2021. (Christophe ARCHAMBAULT/AFP)

NANTERRE, France — A French court on Tuesday acquitted far-right leader and presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen on charges she broke hate-speech laws by tweeting pictures of Islamic State atrocities.

Le Pen shared the gruesome images in December 2015, a few weeks after Islamic State jihadists killed 130 people in attacks in Paris, in response to a journalist who she accused of drawing a comparison between IS and her party.

One of the pictures showed the body of James Foley, an American journalist beheaded by the Islamist terrorists.

Another showed a man in an orange jumpsuit being run over by a tank, and the third a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage.

“Daesh is this!” Le Pen wrote in a caption, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

In 2018 a judge charged her, as well as her National Rally party colleague Gilbert Collard who also tweeted the pictures, with circulating “violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity” and that can be viewed by a minor.

The crime is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of $90,000 (75,000 euros), but the prosecution sought only a $6,000 (5,000 euro) fine.

The court acquitted both Le Pen and Collard on Tuesday, citing the right to freedom of expression.

The court recognized Le Pen’s intention to inform by sharing the images and said doing so can contribute to public debate, as long as violence is not normalized.

“It’s a great victory for law because freedom of expression was at stake in this case,” Le Pen’s lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut told reporters.

“Freedom of expression has been recognized as complete for a top politician,” he added.

The verdict comes as opinion polls show Le Pen will likely face off again against President Emmanuel Macron in next year’s presidential contest, in a repeat of the run-off seen in the last presidential elections in 2017.

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