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French far-right leader Marine Le Pen acquitted of inciting hatred

Stéphane de Sakutin, AFP | French far-right leader Marine Le Pen on October 10, 2014

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front (FN) party, was acquitted Tuesday on charges of inciting hatred over comments she made likening Muslim street prayers to Nazi occupation.

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Le Pen, 47, stood accused of "inciting discrimination, violence or hatred toward a group of people based on their religious beliefs" for the comments, which she made at a campaign event in the southeastern city of Lyon in 2010.

But a Lyon court dismissed the charges on Tuesday, after the local prosecutor requested they be dropped on the basis that her comments “did not target all of the Muslim community”.

The presiding judge said that while Le Pen's comments were “shocking”, they were protected “as a part of freedom of expression”.

If convicted, she could have faced a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a €45,000 fine.

‘It is an occupation’

Le Pen made the comments five years ago while campaigning to take over the FN’s leadership from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.

“I’m sorry, but for those who really like to talk about World War II, if we’re talking about an occupation, we could talk about the [street prayers], because that is clearly an occupation of territory,” she told the rally in Lyon.

“It is an occupation of sections of the territory, of neighborhoods in which religious law applies – it is an occupation. There are no tanks, there are no soldiers, but it is an occupation nevertheless, and it weighs on people,” she added.

An initial investigation was launched into Le Pen’s comments but it was closed in 2011. The case was reopened in 2012 following a legal complaint by a rights group.

Le Pen was put under formal investigation in July 2014 after her immunity as a member of the European Parliament was lifted following a vote requested by French authorities.

She went on trial in October, during which she told the court in Lyon that she had “committed no crime”.

Le Pen insisted that she was not talking about “the Occupation with a big ‘O’” when she made the remarks, but “occupation with a small ‘o’”.

“There was no reference to World War II,” she said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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