French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has been stripped of her European Parliament immunity and may now face charges of racism over comments she made comparing Muslims praying on streets to Nazi occupation during World War II.
Parliamentarians voted on Tuesday to ratify the decision, as recommended by a judicial committee, so that Le Pen, who leads the French National Front party, could defend herself against a charge of inciting racial hatred brought by French prosecutors in 2011.
Le Pen, who was present for the vote, said she stood behind her comments and looked forward to defending them in front of a judge.
“I’m going to defend myself … and I’m absolutely convinced that the court will rule in my favour and protect my right to say to the French the truth about the situation, notably prayers in the streets but not only that,” Le Pen said in an interview on French television.
If found guilty of inciting racial hatred, she would face a maximum penalty of one year in prison and $60,000 in fines.
In her speech, made in 2010 in Lyon and broadcast in France, Le Pen said that “more and more burkas” were being seen in France. “After that came prayers in the streets… I’m sorry, but some people are very fond of talking about the Second World War and about the occupation, so let’s talk about occupation, because that is what is happening here… There are no tanks, no soldiers, but it is still an occupation, and it weighs on people.”
A trial in France would be a setback for the National Front as it seeks to beat the Socialist Party and mainstream centre-right UMP party in local and European Parliament elections next year.
Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-EU party is gaining support at the expense of President Francois Hollande’s Socialists in a darkening economic context, as high and rising joblessness fuels the spread of her Euro-sceptic views.
First elected to the European Parliament in 2004, Le Pen won 18 percent of the vote in the first round of France’s presidential election in 2012, the party’s highest-ever score.
In 1997, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, while sitting as an MEP, also had his immunity revoked after saying that Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” in the history of World War II. He was subsequently convicted and fined in a German court.