PARIS — On Thursday, the European Parliament voted to lift Marine Le Pen’s immunity from prosecution for tweeting violent images, a crime that in France can carry up to three years in prison.
As Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party, rises in the polls ahead of France’s presidential election next month, authorities will now be able to pursue a case against her. Speaking on French television Thursday morning, she was quick to condemn her European colleagues for what she called “a political inquiry.”
In December 2015, Le Pen tweeted a picture of James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by the Islamic State in August 2014. “Daesh is THIS!” she wrote as a caption, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
After a day of immediate and widespread outrage on social media — including from Foley’s family — Le Pen ultimately took down the tweet. “I did not know it was a picture of James Foley,” she said at the time. “It’s accessible on Google. I learned this morning that his family is asking me to withdraw it. Obviously, I immediately withdrew it.”
Because French law considers the dissemination of violent images a potential incitement of terrorist activity, prosecutors were keen to pursue a case against Le Pen. But they could not, as Le Pen was a member of the European Parliament, an institution that guarantees immunity to its deputies to protect their freedom of speech.
That immunity, however, applies specifically to the work deputies do in the European Parliament itself and can be revoked at the request of a respective country.
For her part, Le Pen insisted that the tweet was posted well within her capacity as a parliamentary deputy.
“I’m a lawmaker. I’m in my role when I condemn Daesh,” she said on French television Thursday. “And if I don’t fulfill my role, I’m worth nothing as a lawmaker. Nobody can prevent a republic’s representative from condemning Daesh’s acts of violence.”
Her colleagues did not agree, voting by a large margin to lift her immunity. “I think the result is clear,” Dimitrios Papadimoulis, another European Parliament member, told reporters Thursday. “A large majority is for the waiving of immunity.”
Le Pen — whose platform relies on a strong anti-immigrant, and often considered Islamophobic, hard line — will probably attempt to use any forthcoming prosecution to her political advantage, insisting that she alone is defending France’s national security interests after a wave of terrorist violence claimed 230 lives.
Many of those attacks — including the November 2015 assaults on a Paris concert hall and cafe terraces — were perpetrated by Islamic State militants, some of whom had entered Europe disguised as migrants.
Should authorities pursue a case against her, Le Pen could face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 75,000 euros ($78,800). She also faces prosecution in another unrelated case, having been accused of spending E.U. Parliament money on her own political party’s affairs.
But in the unforgiving theater of French politics, the potential case against Le Pen is unlikely to distract attention from the embezzlement accusations against her chief opponent, centrist conservative François Fillon.
On Wednesday, Fillon defiantly refused to suspend his campaign after prosecutors launched a formal investigation into the hundreds of thousands of euros his wife and children were paid for work they may never have actually done.
In the two-round vote in late April and early May, Fillon and Le Pen will face off against Socialist Benoit Hamon and the popular Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist candidate and former economy minister who announced his platform in Paris on Thursday.
“We are not proposing to reform our country,” Macron said, offering a slew of lofty promises. “We’re proposing to transform it.”
On Thursday, for instance, in an apparent nod to conservative voters, he promised to increase military spending to 2 percent of France’s GDP, long a demand from the United States and other NATO allies. And after riots started rocking the Paris suburbs last month following the alleged police rape of a young black man, Macron promised to hire 10,000 more police and to create 15,000 more places in prison.