Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party, appeared in court earlier this week in Lyon on hate speech charges, after she compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation.
Four anti-racism and human rights groups have brought a case against her on charges of “incitement to discrimination, violence or hatred towards a group of people on the basis of their religion”.
The trial begins on Tuesday and it is the first time Le Pen has faced charges for hate speech, although her father and party founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has several convictions under the charge, including one for contesting crimes against humanity after saying the Nazi occupation of France was not “particularly inhumane”.
Le Pen made her comments in a speech during a party rally in Lyon in 2010. She referred to “street prayers” after there had been reports of Muslims praying in public in three French cities, including Paris, because of a lack of mosques or a lack of space in local prayer rooms.
She said: “I’m sorry, but for those who really like to talk about the second world war, if we’re talking about occupation, we can also talk about this while we’re at it, because this is an occupation of territory,” she told supporters, prompting waves of applause.
“It’s an occupation of swaths of territory, of areas in which religious laws apply … for sure, there are no tanks, no soldiers, but it’s an occupation all the same and it weighs on people.”
When the European parliament lifted Le Pen’s parliamentary immunity in July 2013, a preliminary inquiry was opened.
The penalty for inciting racial hatred in France is up to a year in prison and a €45,000 (£33,000) fine.