The leader of France’s far-right National Front party has appeared before a court charged with inciting racial hatred.
Marine Le Pen’s trial in the southern city of Lyon on Tuesday comes five years after she compared Muslim street prayers to Nazi occupation.
The charges were brought forward by four anti-racism and human rights organisations.
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“I have the right, as a political leader, to evoke a crucial issue, and it’s even a duty for me to do it,” Le Pen said, describing herself as a victim of “judicial persecution”, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Al Jazeera’s Nev Barker, reporting from Lyon, said Le Pen had not explicitly denied the accusations but hinted she had not meant to refer to the Nazi occupation.
“She has compared what ‘occupation’ with a little ‘o’ compared to what ‘occupation’ with a big ‘o’ means, but when it comes to these allegations themselves, she says they are baseless,” Barker said
Le Pen’s litigious comments referred to Muslims praying on the street outside of mosques when they are full.
“That actually is the occupation of territory,” she told a crowd of sympathisers in Lyon in 2010.
In France, “occupation” is the generic term used to refer to the period of administration by the Nazis of French territory.
Le Pen and her party score high in all popularity polls before regional elections in December. She’s hoping to win votes in the context of Europe’s refugee crisis, which she calls a “migratory submersion”.
The critic of Islam, who enjoys broad support in France, faces a $51,000 fine and a year in prison if found guilty. The court’s ruling is expected at a later date.