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General

Marine Le Pen soon off the hook for anti-Muslim remarks? Not free speech

media French National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen arrives in court to face charges of making anti-Muslim remarks for her comparison of street prayers to a wartime Nazi occupation, in Lyon, France, October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Pratta

French prosecutors have asked for the far-right leader to be acquitted on charges of inciting racial hatred. Marine Le Pen went on trial Tuesday for comparing Muslim street prayers to the Nazi occupation.

"Mrs Le Pen was referring to a minority of Muslims, and not the entire community," prosecutor Bernard Reynaud told French news agency AFP on Tuesday.

"She can't be convicted for exercising her right to free speech," Reynaud argued. And to support his claim, he dug up the case of another gruesome character: the cartoonist Siné, who said "everytime he saw a veiled Muslim woman, he wanted nothing more than to kick her up the arse." Siné was acquitted for proferring such remarks in 2009, so Le Pen should be too. Or so his argument goes.

Le Pen's 'Muslim-bashing' occured only a year after Siné's. While on the campaign trail in December 2010, the leader of the Front National had complained about France's streets being overrun by Muslim worshippers.

France's strict secularist policy or laicité forbids city councils from funding mosques - the country cruelly lacks about 300 new buildings - which means that more often than not, prayers take place outside mosques, on the streets.

Annoying it may be yes, but can Muslim prayers really be compared to the Nazi Occupation? A dark page in history culminating in the death of six million Jews..?

It can and Marine Le Pen did. But she maintains, she did nothing wrong: "I have not committed a crime," she told reporters from a courthouse in Lyon. "I was exercising my right of free speech."

Except the last time a public figure -like comedian Dieudonné - exerted his right to free speech when he mocked Nazi gas chambers, he had his shows and theatre closed. But with Marine Le Pen, her comments are different.

Praying on the street "is an occupation of part of the territory, suburbs where religious law is applied. Sure, there are no armoured vehicles, no soldiers, but it is an occupation nonetheless and it weighs on residents," she said.

Le Pen, who is riding on a huge wave of popularity, has slammed her trial as a political manoeuvre on the part of the government to discredit her before regional elections in December. "Why did they wait five years to take me to court? Why now?"

If convicted, she faces up to a year in prison or a fine of up to 45,000 euros.

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