French far-right hopeful Zemmour convicted of hate speech

1 min 52Approximate reading time

A French court on Monday found far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour guilty of racist hate speech for a televised tirade against unaccompanied child migrants.

Zemmour drew widespread outrange in September 2020 when he told the CNews channel that child migrants were “thieves, killers, they’re rapists. That’s all they are. We should send them back”.

Zemmour, a media pundit who is struggling to assemble the endorsements from elected officials required to compete in April’s presidential vote, did not appear in court to hear the verdict, having skipped his trial in November.

The court fined him 10,000 euros ($11,400) in daily instalments of 100 euros over 100 days. He could be jailed if he fails to pay the sum.

Zemmour’s lawyer, Olivier Pardo, said he would appeal the verdict, which Zemmour called “ideological and stupid” in a statement Monday, saying it was contrary to free speech and democratic debate.

“This is the condemnation of a free spirit by a judicial system that has been invaded by the ideologues,” he said.

“The truth is that these isolated minors who are very often neither minors nor isolated are characterised by their strong tendency towards delinquency or even criminal acts,” he added. “As French citizens we must demand the right to talk about this question.”

The journalist and author has two previous convictions for hate speech and has been investigated 16 times in total over incendiary remarks on immigration and Islam.

In 2011, he was fined 10,000 euros for claiming on TV that “most drug dealers are black and Arab”. In 2018, he was ordered to pay 3,000 euros for comments about a Muslim “invasion” of France.

– Another trial looms –

A fresh court challenge looms on Thursday, when the verdict is due in an appeals trial on charges of denial of crimes against humanity, after Zemmour claimed in 2016 that Philippe Petain — who headed the Vichy government during World War II, in collaboration with Nazi Germany — had actually “saved” French Jews.

A lower court cleared him of the charge, saying that the remark had been made in the “heat of the moment during a debate about the war in Syria”.

Zemmour’s dramatic entrance into front-line politics in November after a career spent in the media sent waves through the French ruling class, making him briefly the most talked-about challenger to President Emmanuel Macron.

Since then his poll numbers have slipped, however, with a Harris Interactive survey last week putting him at 13 percent in the first round, behind both veteran far-right leader Marine Le Pen and conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse, both at 16 percent.

Macron, who has yet to officially declare a re-election bid, stood at 25 percent.

Like all candidates in the race, Zemmour needs to muster 500 endorsements from elected figures around the country by the middle of March in order to have his name on the ballot.

The anti-Islam populist has admitted he risks being excluded unless more mayors and other elected figures agree to back him under a system he has denounced as discriminating against political outsiders.