France’s right-wing presidential hopeful skips first day of trial on race hate charges

Lawyer for commentator and essayist claims his client’s opponents were seeking to stir up a ‘trial by public opinion’

Matt Mathers
Wednesday 17 November 2021 13:30

France’s far-right presidential hopeful Eric Zemmour did not show up to court on the first day of his trial on charges relating to inciting racial hatred in Paris on Wednesday.

The controversial commentator and essayist is being tried on charges of “public insult” and “incitement to hatred or violence” against a group of people due to their ethnic, national, racial or religious origin.

He was previously convicted of hate speech after justifying discrimination against Black and Arab people in 2010, and of incitement to religious hatred for anti-Islam comments in 2016.

Zemmour, 63, was sentenced to pay court costs and a 5,000 euro (£4,209) fine.

The former political talk show guest, whose inflammatory rhetoric has drawn comparisons with former US President Donald Trump, is expected to announce his run for the Elysee soon.

Zemmour often uses his platforms to rail against immigration, Islam and what he says is political correctness in French culture.

While he has been surging in the polls, Zemmour, at present, is still expected to be defeated by the incumbent, President Emmanuel Macron. The French presidential election is next April.

Zemmour’s current trial relates to remarks he made last year when he called unaccompanied child migrants "thieves, killers and rapists”

His lawyer, Olivier Pardo claimed opponents were seeking to stir up a “trial by public opinion” and that the charges against the writer were unfounded.

"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," Mr Pardo told RMC radio.

Zemmour was not present Wednesday at the Paris court, where he was represented by his lawyer. The verdict is expected to be delivered at a later date.

The head of the managing board of Canal +, CNews’ parent company, Jean-Christophe Thiery, is also on trial in the case, as the person legally in charge of the television show.

Civil plaintiffs in the case include several local councils representing "departments," the administrative divisions in charge of handling child care.

"We refuse for these comments to be trivialized and to target foreign non-accompanied minors who come to seek protection in France, as well as all those who work to help them best," the departmental council of Seine-Saint-Denis, north of Paris, said.

Anti-racism groups that filed a formal complaint, including SOS Racisme, the Human Rights League and the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, also are participating as civil plaintiffs.

Zemmour is also set to go on trial on charges of "racial insult" after he told another TV pundit, Hapsatou Sy, that her first name was "an insult to France." Sy has filed a formal complaint. No trial date has been set.

Zemmour has repeatedly said he wants to ban parents from giving children foreign names, similar to an 1803 law restricting choice to typical French names, mostly of Christian origin. In another anti-Islam comment, he said this would be a way of banning the name Muhammad.

Zemmour has also been tried in several other cases, where he was acquitted.

A Paris court in February acquitted Zemmour on a charge of contesting crimes against humanity — illegal in France — for arguing in a 2019 television debate that Marshal Philippe Petain, head of Vichy’s collaborationist government during World War II, saved France’s Jews from the Holocaust.

In its verdict, the court said Zemmour’s comments negated Petain’s role in the extermination. But in acquitting Zemmour, it said he’d 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.

Additional reporting by agencies