Eric Zemmour says child migrants tend to become criminals as he hits back at hate speech verdict

·5 min read
Eric Zemmour France - AP Photo/Francois Mori
Eric Zemmour France - AP Photo/Francois Mori

Eric Zemmour has been found guilty of hate speech for branding unaccompanied child migrants “thieves, murderers and rapists”, in a Paris court ruling that could further dent the polemist’s faltering campaign.

The hard-Right French presidential candidate, who has two prior hate speech convictions, was fined €10,000 (£8,400) in daily instalments of €100 (£84) over 100 days for “public insult” and “incitement to hatred or violence” against a group of people due to their ethnic, national, racial or religious origin.

The 63-year-old could be jailed if he fails to pay the sum.

The trial centred on comments he made last September on CNews, the Right-wing French news broadcaster, about children who migrate to France without parents or guardians.

“They’re thieves. They’re murderers. They’re rapists. That’s all they are. We must send them back,” said Mr Zemmour.

“These people cost us money and in addition, they are, most of them, criminals, thieves, et cetera, coming from Morocco, Pakistan and Chechnya.”

Mr Zemmour, who is struggling to assemble the endorsements from elected officials he needs to compete in April’s presidential election, did not show up in court to hear the verdict, having already skipped his trial in November.

Olivier Pardo, his lawyer, had argued that he was simply spelling out a “reality” about minors in Paris who were repeat offenders, and that his comments were part of a wider political discourse in which he defended a “zero immigration” policy.

“There’s not an ounce of racism in my client,” he told the court.

‘Ideological and stupid’ verdict attacked

Eric Zemmour - Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images
Eric Zemmour - Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images

However, the prosecution argued that he had “overstepped the boundaries of freedom of expression” to express a “hatred” of immigrants.

This outburst was “no accident of language”, it said, adding that referring to immigrants in general as “a common enemy” was part of “the mechanism of racism”.

Mr Zemmour on Monday attacked the verdict, which his lawyer said he would appeal, as “ideological and stupid”.

The trial was the result of legal complaints by “mainly Left-wing” civil plaintiffs less than three months before the first round of presidential elections and “the court rushed to satisfy their whims”, he said.

“This is the conviction of a free spirit by a judicial system invaded by ideologues” and which “tightens the noose a little more every day on the freedom of expression and democratic debate”.

“The truth is that these ‘unaccompanied minors’ – who are very often neither minors nor unaccompanied – are characterised by their illegal presence in our country and their strong propensity to delinquency, even criminality. As French citizens, we should demand the right to broach this issue… without running the risk of being troubled by the courts.”

Among the 30-odd civil plaintiffs in the case were several local councils representing French départements, counties in charge of handling child care. These also included several anti-racism groups, which filed the original complaint.

Punishment on Mr Zemmour ‘very light’

Samuel Thomas, the president of the Maisons des Potes (“Homes of Friends”), a network of anti-racism associations, called the sentence “very light”.

He said: “We had hoped for him to be deprived of civic rights. So Eric Zemmour will be able to continue his political career. When you’re inciting racial hatred, you’re also responsible for crimes that are committed by far-Right thugs.”

Last March, the French broadcasting regulator handed a €200,000 (£167,000) fine to CNews which aired Mr Zemmour’s migrant comments. It dropped him as a star pundit shortly afterwards.

Mr Zemmour is also set to go on appeal trial on Thursday on a charge of contesting crimes against humanity, which is illegal in France, for arguing in a 2019 television debate that Marshal Philippe Petain, the head of the Vichy France collaborationist government during the Second World War, saved France’s Jews from the Holocaust.

A court acquitted him last year, saying Mr Zemmour’s comments negated Petain’s role in the extermination, but explained that he was not convicted because he had spoken in the heat of the moment.

Mr Zemmour has repeated similar comments in recent months, and lawyers contesting his acquittal plan to cite that point as evidence in the appeal trial.

Firebrand candidate loses ground

A torn poster of French hard-Right media pundit Eric Zemmour in Paris - Joel Saget/AFP
A torn poster of French hard-Right media pundit Eric Zemmour in Paris - Joel Saget/AFP

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

He was convicted of incitement to racial hatred after justifying discrimination against black and Arab people in 2010, and of incitement to religious hatred for anti-Islam comments in 2016. He was sentenced to pay court costs and a €5,000 (£4,176) fine.

With his vitriolic rhetoric, the essayist-turned-candidate took the rest of the French political class by surprise with a shock rise in the polls that at one point saw him cannibalise the voter base of both the more established hard-Right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen and the mainstream conservative Right-wing Republicans.

However, polls suggest that he has lost ground in recent weeks and is now firmly behind Ms Le Pen and the conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse, both vying for a spot in the run-off in the April elections against Emmanuel Macron, who has yet to officially launch his re-election campaign.

A Kantar Public poll on Monday suggested that only 40 per cent of the French see Ms Le Pen as “far-Right and xenophobic” – a nine per cent drop since 2019 – while 64 per cent see Mr Zemmour as fitting this description. Some 62 per cent of French see him as a “danger to democracy” compared to 50 per cent for Ms Le Pen.

Meanwhile, only eight per cent actively hope Mr Zemmour will win the election, compared to 21 per cent for Ms Le Pen.

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