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Marine Le Pen loses immunity over graphic ISIS-related tweets

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French far-right leader could now face charges for distributing violent images as presidential election nears

National Front Leader Marine Le Pen Campaigns In Lille Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

The European Parliament on Thursday voted to strip French far-right leader Marine Le Pen of her parliamentary immunity, in a decision that clears the way for investigators to prosecute the presidential candidate over violent ISIS-related images she posted on Twitter in 2015.

Le Pen has been under investigation for tweeting three images showing ISIS executions in December 2015. The tweets were posted in response to a journalist whom Le Pen accused of likening her anti-immigrant National Front (FN) party to ISIS. One of the images she posted depicted the beheading of American journalist James Foley, which drew criticism from Foley’s family. The others showed a man being burned alive in a cage, and a hostage being run over by a military tank.

Investigators have considered prosecuting Le Pen for the publication of violent images, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine of €75,000 ($78,836) under French law.

Le Pen had been immune from prosecution as a member of European parliament, but a legal committee voted on Tuesday to lift her immunity, following a request filed by a French prosecutor’s office. The full parliament finalized the decision on Thursday, in what Parliamentary President Antonio Tajani described as a “clear majority” decision.

Le Pen’s parliamentary immunity was previously lifted in 2013, which led to prosecution over statements she made comparing Muslim public prayer to the Nazi occupation of France. Charges in that case were eventually dropped.

It is unclear whether prosecutors will take legal action against Le Pen before this year’s presidential elections, which are held in two rounds in April and May. The far-right leader is currently embroiled in a “fake job” scandal over her party’s alleged misuse of European funds to pay for Le Pen’s personal bodyguard and assistant. The FN has dismissed the investigations as “media operation whose goal is to disturb course of presidential campaign.”

Thursday’s decision to lift her immunity only applies to the investigation into her tweets. FN Vice President Florian Philippot defended her tweets after Tuesday’s decision, telling Reuters: “Showing and naming the horror of Islamism allow us to fight against it.”

Speaking to French media ahead of Thursday’s vote, Le Pen said: "Why investigate me and not others? I am a lawmaker and I was denouncing Daesh [ISIS] in my role as a lawmaker.”