Éric Zemmour, French far-right candidate, sentenced for incitement to racial hatred

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PARIS — Éric Zemmour, the far-right anti-immigrant pundit who is running for president in France, was found guilty on Monday of inciting racial hatred after saying on television in 2020 that unaccompanied migrant children were “thieves”, “rapists”. and “murderers”.

Mr Zemmour, who stood by his remarks and said the courts should not police political speech, was fined 10,000 euros, or $11,400, by a Paris criminal court.

The verdict represented the third conviction and fine for Mr Zemmour, who has a long history of inflammatory comments, mostly about immigration, over the past decade, although he has been acquitted on other occasions.

Mr. Zemmour has repeatedly broken French laws that punish defamation or acts that provoke hatred or violence on the basis of race, religion and other factors over the past decade, and he still does facing multiple trials on similar charges.

In one declaration Announcing he would appeal Thursday’s conviction, Mr Zemmour said the court had made an “ideological and stupid” ruling against a “free spirit”.

“We want the end of this system which every day tightens the grip a little more around freedom of expression and democratic debate”, he added.

Mr Zemmour surged in the polls even before announcing his presidential bid in November, and he muddied traditional French politics with his fiery nationalist rhetoric and apocalyptic tone, but his campaign has lost momentum in recent weeks .

With the election about three months away, Mr Zemmour is struggling to secure the official support of at least 500 elected representatives – a requirement to be on the ballot in the presidential election. He now sits around 13% in the polls, in fourth place, while President Emmanuel Macron, who was elected in 2017 and is widely expected to run to stay in power, is the first to vote.

Mr. Zemmour has explicitly shaped himself as a French-style Donald J. Trump, with inflammatory comments and attacks on the French media and elites that have repeatedly sparked outrage and fueled his rise.

The case was rooted in comments Mr Zemmour made in September 2020. Appearing on CNews – a Fox-style television network that grew by giving airtime to right-wing pundits to speak out on issues such as crime, immigration, climate and Covid – Mr Zemmour was asked about minors who immigrate to France from Africa or the Middle East without parents or guardians and often find themselves isolated in the face of the difficulties of city ​​streets or squalid camps.

“They don’t belong here, they’re thieves, they’re murderers, they’re rapists, that’s all they are,” Mr Zemmour said. “They should be fired, they shouldn’t even come.”

Politicians and anti-racism groups quickly condemned the comments, and prosecutors opened an investigation based on laws prohibiting defamation and provocation.

Mr. Zemmour’s lawyer had asked for the charges to be dismissed, arguing at the trial, held in November, that unaccompanied migrant children were not an ethnic or racial group.

Arié Alimi, a lawyer for the French League for Human Rights, a civil party in the case, told reporters at the courthouse that Mr Zemmour’s policy was based on “hate” and the stigmatization of people ” because of their origin, their religion or their race”. .”

“It’s an important decision, because he has to understand that we won’t let it rest,” Alimi said.

In 2011, a French court convicted Mr Zemmour of inciting racial hatred for televised comments in which he suggested a majority of criminals in France were “black and Arab” and said employers “had the right” to refuse employment to these ethnic groups.

Mr Zemmour was found guilty of similar charges for saying on television in 2016 that France had suffered an “invasion” by Muslims, whom he accused of supporting jihadist terrorists.

The Paris Court of Appeal is expected to hear another case against Mr. Zemmour on Thursday involving charges of contesting crimes against humanity. Mr. Zemmour claimed on CNews in 2019 that Marshal Philippe Pétain “saved” French Jews during World War II — comments that were part of Mr. Zemmour’s repeated attempts to rehabilitate France’s collaborationist regime in times of war.

A lower court, ruling that he gave his verdict in the heat of the moment, acquitted him, but prosecutors appealed.

The verdict comes as Mr Zemmour tries to breathe new life into his bid for the presidency, which initially upended the campaign. In French presidential elections, any number of candidates can stand in the first ballot, but only the first two voters advance to the second ballot.

If Mr. Zemmour hopes to challenge Mr. Macron in this round, he will have to beat Marine Le Pen, the other far-right candidate, who is trying to clean up her image and embody credibility, and Valérie Pécresse, the conservative candidate. dominant. who has taken a hard line on issues like crime and immigration.

Mr Zemmour has siphoned off some of Ms Le Pen’s voters, but a study by the public polling firm Kantar published on Monday found that his unapologetic and radical nationalist campaign, which presents proposals such as requiring parents to giving their children “traditional” French names, appears to have “softened” Ms Le Pen’s image with the wider electorate.

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