PARIS (Reuters) -Eric Zemmour, the would-be presidential challenger whose incendiary language on immigration is shaping France’s election campaign, skipped the first day of a trial for inciting racial hatred, and said he stood by his remarks that young migrants illegally in France were “thieves and rapists”.
The far-right commentator, who opinion polls show could reach the second-round runoff vote in April next year, alleged there was a campaign to intimidate him.
“Today I am pursued by the judiciary on the basis of freedom-killing laws for having criticised people, who in their own words ‘are there to pillage France’,” Zemmour said in a statement. “Illegal immigrants who, for the most part, are neither minors, nor unaccompanied … but often delinquent.”
Zemmour, who has not officially declared his candidacy for the presidency but is widely expected to stand, has faced fines from two similar hate crime convictions in the past. His latest trial is over remarks he made during a September, 2020 talkshow debate on right-wing channel CNews.
On the show, he said of young unaccompanied migrants: “They’ve no reason being here, they are thieves, they are killers, they are rapists, that’s all they do, they should be sent back.” France’s broadcast regulator fined the channel 200,000 euros over the remarks.
Zemmour’s lawyer Olivier Pardo told RMC radio the charges 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.”
A polarising figure https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/right-wing-chat-show-celebrity-may-alter-frances-election-dynamics-2021-09-21 who has made a career pushing the bounds of political correctness, Zemmour has eaten into the voter base of both the more established far-right Rassemblement National party of Marine Le Pen and the mainstream conservative right.
Some opinion polls https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/zemmour-widens-gap-over-le-pen-race-french-presidential-runoff-vote-poll-2021-11-09 show him edging ahead of Le Pen in the race for a place in the second-round runoff vote. Challengers for the traditional https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/barnier-talks-tough-immigration-quest-frances-centre-right-presidential-ticket-2021-10-20 centre-right party’s nomination have responded by toughening their language on immigration and identity.
(Reporting by Richard LoughEditing by Peter Graff)