French Government Wants To Toss Far-Right Political Leader In Jail For Posting Images Of Terrorist Atrocities
from the headline-writers-already-busy-on-Le-Pen/the-Pen-variations dept
France’s decision to inhibit free speech in response to local terrorist attacks has resulted in ridiculous applications of laws being written (and rewritten) on the fly. The current French president — and supposed moderate — wants to “ban” fake news and the French government has previously expressed a desire to censor websites for national security reasons. The attack on satirical publication Charlie Hebdo supposedly prompted French government officials to stand in solidarity with free speech. This show of unity was followed immediately by multiple arrests for violations of France’s speech laws — including the arrest of comedian for an anti-Semitic Facebook post and another for posting a video mocking dead policemen.
I’m not sure if this latest action is approaching the French speech law event horizon, but it says nothing good about the current state of speech protections in France.
[Marine] Le Pen, who lost to Emmanuel Macron in last year’s presidential vote, is facing charges of 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 €75,000 (£66,000).
The pictures were posted a few weeks after the Paris terror attacks in November 2015, in which 130 people were killed.
Le Pen leads the far-right political party Front National. She tweeted these images in response to a journalist’s comparison of her party to terrorists. This was meant to indicate her party wasn’t actually involved in the execution and torture of political and religious enemies, unlike ISIS. It’s an easy point to make and even easier to make badly, as Le Pen did.
The posting was questionable and in poor taste, but it certainly shouldn’t be illegal. These are things that actually happened, perpetrated by actual terrorists. Preventing people from using these image in context does nothing to slow the spread of terrorism. All it does is turn contextual use of violent imagery into its own crime, wholly divorced from the criminal acts the law is supposed to be deterring.
It took the French government three years to get around to laying charges. Here’s why:
The move by a judge in Nanterre on Thursday came after the national assembly voted in November to strip Le Pen of her parliamentary immunity over the three photos posted in 2015.
This decision could not have been made lightly. This sets precedent for the removal of immunity — something most members would likely have wanted to leave undisturbed. That it was disturbed suggests the desire to punish Le Pen was greater than the desire to avoid being held accountable for similar actions in the future. It makes no difference to the court who it punishes for violations, but it will make a lot of difference to those who voted to strip immunity when the pendulum swings back the other way and the party in power starts handing out charges for saying the wrong things online.