Hate speech trial begins for far-right French pundit Éric Zemmour

Far-right pundit, Éric Zemmour, gives an icy stare to the camera. He is facing charges of using racist hate speech.
French far-right pundit, Éric Zemmour, faces charges of racist hate speech. It is unclear how this could affect a potential campaign going into the 2022 presidential election in France. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / POOL / AFP)
French far-right pundit Éric Zemmour, who is widely expected to run for the presidency next year, went on trial on Wednesday charged with racist hate speech over a televised tirade against unaccompanied child migrants.

His incendiary comments were made on French news channel, CNews, back in September. 

The 63-year-old did not appear in person, saying in a statement that he refused “to accept that a political debate takes place in a courtroom”.

Even if he were convicted, he would almost certainly appeal, and his electoral prospects would be unlikely to suffer as his contempt for “politically correct” speech is part of his appeal.

READ ALSO French far-right presidential hopeful Zemmour under fire over Bataclan tirade

Around 20 members of his Generation Z support group gathered in front of the Paris court building and unfurled a French flag.

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The case was ‘nothing other than another attempt to intimidate me’, his statement said under the headline ‘they won’t shut me up’.

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

This most recent trial was for comments made several days after a Pakistani man had attacked two people with a meat cleaver at the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which had recently republished cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

READ ALSO Zemmour’s fake French history has a dark and long-term motive

The 25-year-old assailant, who was unaware that the magazine had changed location, had arrived in France with false papers to claim asylum as an unaccompanied minor.

Immigration is a major theme of early presidential campaigning, with Zemmour and other right-wing hopefuls promising to address fraud in the asylum system and the difficulty of returning people if their claims are rejected.

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

READ ALSO French poll predicts Zemmour-Macron showdown in 2022 presidential election

Polls have shown a surge in support for him over the last two months, with some at the end of October putting him ahead of the veteran far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

In the latest surveys ahead of the first round of the election on April 10, he was shown winning 13 to 15 percent, with Le Pen on around 18 percent and President Emmanuel Macron on around 25 percent.

Macron is tipped to win the second-round run-off irrespective of his opponent, but analysts warn that the election remains highly unpredictable.

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