Éric Zemmour, the far-right TV pundit who is preparing to run for French president claiming that Islam and immigration are destroying France, has gone on trial in Paris on charges of incitement to racial hatred.
The case relates to remarks the 63-year-old polemicist made on television last year when he called unaccompanied child migrants “thieves, killers and rapists”.
Zemmour – who has two previous hate speech convictions but who has risen in opinion polls to be seen as a potential challenger to Emmanuel Macron in spring’s election – is being tried for “public insult” and “incitement to hatred or violence” against a group of people because of their ethnic, national, racial or religious origin.
He made the comments during a debate in September 2020, on the French news broadcaster CNews. He said of children who migrate to France without parents or guardians: “They’re thieves, they’re murderers, they’re rapists, that’s all they are. We must send them back.”
If found guilty, he faces a sentence of up to a year in prison and a €45,000 fine.
Zemmour was not present on Wednesday at the court. His lawyer, Olivier Pardo, said the charges were unfounded and Zemmour’s opponents were seeking to stir up a “trial by public opinion”.
“He’s wanted for ‘racial hate’ but as far as I know an unaccompanied minor is neither a race, nor a nation, nor an ethnicity,” Pardo told RMC radio. He said Zemmour would not attend the trial because he did not want the court to become a “political arena”.
Several anti-racism and rights groups, including SOS Racisme, filed a complaint against Zemmour. They are joined as civil plaintiffs by numerous local councils in charge of handling child welfare and care for unaccompanied minors.
The council for the Seine-Saint-Denis department, north of Paris, 말했다: “We won’t let these comments be trivialised”. The council complained about the targeting of “foreign non-accompanied minors who come to seek protection in France, as well as all those who work to help them”.
Germinal Peiro, the Socialist head of the Dordogne department, told France Inter radio: “We’re responsible for these children and we’re here to defend their interests … This man made xenophobic and racist comments which are unacceptable in French democracy.”
Zemmour was previously convicted of incitement to racial hatred after justifying discrimination against Black and Arab people in 2010, and of incitement to religious hatred for anti-Islam comments in 2016. He has been tried in several other cases where he was acquitted.
ㅏ 파리 court in February acquitted Zemmour on a charge of contesting crimes against humanity – which is illegal in France – for arguing in a 2019 television debate that Philippe Pétain, the head of Vichy’s collaborationist government during the second world war, saved France’s Jews from the Holocaust.
In its verdict, the court said Zemmour’s comments negated Pétain’s role in the extermination. But in acquitting Zemmour, the court said he had spoken in the heat of the moment.
Yet Zemmour in recent weeks has repeated similar comments, and lawyers contesting his acquittal plan to cite that point as evidence when their appeal is heard in January.
The verdict in Wednesday’s case is expected to be delivered at a later date.