French National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen has removed a gruesome photograph of slain US journalist James Foley from her Twitter account, less than 24 hours after posting three graphic images of Islamic State (IS) victims.
Foley was working as a freelance war correspondent in Syria when he was abducted by IS insurgents in November 2012. A four-minute propaganda video of Foley's beheading was uploaded by IS to YouTube in August 2014.
Le Pen — whose anti-immigration party made record gains in recent regional elections — tweeted the image of Foley's blood-spattered head resting on his body in response to comments made by French journalist Jean-Jacques Bourdin.
Interviewing political scientist Gilles Kepel for radio station RMC and news channel BFM TV, Bourdin drew parallels between Le Pen's party and IS, saying the two movements shared an "inward-looking attitude" and "mindset."
A furious Le Pen reacted by tweeting images of IS executions under the caption "This is Daesh!" — an Arabic acronym for IS. Twitter later hid the graphic photographs behind a warning about the sensitive nature of the images, with an option to "view the content."
Reacting to Le Pen's social media stunt Wednesday, French Prime Minister Manual Valls accused the FN leader of committing a "moral political error." Addressing the National Assembly on Wednesday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve described the images as "IS propaganda." Cazeneuve — who, like Valls, is a member of France's Socialist Party (PS) — announced he had asked the police to look into the tweets. He said the photographs were "abject, an abomination and a real insult to all victims of terrorism."
Prosecutors in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre announced Wednesday that they had opened a preliminary investigation into "the dissemination of violent images" — an offense under French criminal law.
Paris attorney Thierry Vallat, who specializes in defending terrorism apologists, told VICE News that Le Pen could indeed face prosecution under article 222-33-3 of the French Penal Code. According to this article, it is illegal to knowingly share recorded images that show a person being caused bodily harm.
"They would have a hard time accusing her of glorifying terrorism [a crime under French law]," said Vallat. "However, she has knowingly shared images that violate the integrity of persons.… She did so knowingly, with the intention to shock."
If presidential hopeful Le Pen is found guilty of "disseminating violent images," she could face up to five years in prison and a 75,000 euro fine, said Vallat, noting that maximum sentences are rarely handed down in such cases. The fact that she backtracked and later removed the image of Foley is in no way "a mitigating factor," he added.
The attorney also said that no elected official had ever been charged with this offense and that the case could set a precedent. "It will be interesting to see, from a legal perspective, what the ruling will be," he said.
The legislation banning the dissemination of violent images does, however, make an exception for those "practicing a profession whose aim is to inform the public" — i.e. journalists.
"Can a female politician publish such images, if her aim is to inform the public of IS activities? Her defense may hinge on that question," said Vallat, adding that legal proceedings against Le Pen could last years.
"We are deeply disturbed by the unsolicited use of Jim for Le Pen's political gain," Foley's family said in a statement. "[We] hope that the picture of our son, along with the two other graphic photographs, are taken down immediately."
"I did not know it was a photograph of James Foley," Le Pen told AFP Thursday, adding that the image could be "accessed by anyone on Google."
She said she had removed the image after learning Thursday morning that Foley's family had requested it be taken down.
"Unfortunately, publishing these horrific photos was the only way to slam my fist down on the table," she told AFP. "There is no way I am going to allow FN voters to be compared to an organization of barbarians and murderers."
Two other shocking images were still on Le Pen's Twitter account Thursday afternoon, including a photograph of 26-year-old Jordanian pilot Moaz al Kasabeh being burned alive inside a cage. A propaganda video showing Al Kasabeh's brutal execution was also filmed and released on IS media accounts.
Follow Lucie Aubourg sur Twitter: @LucieAbrg
Photo of Marine Le Pen via Global Panorama/Flickr.
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