A former local election candidate for France’s far-right National Front (FN) was sentenced to nine months in prison Tuesday for comparing the country’s black Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to a monkey – a ruling condemned by the party’s leaders.
Anne-Sophie Leclère, who was a candidate in the northern French town of Rethel in March’s municipal elections, posted a photomontage, since deleted, on her Facebook page last year showing a baby monkey next to an image of Taubira. The caption under the monkey’s picture read “At 18 months”, while the caption under Taubira’s photo was labelled “now”.
Questioned about the image during a documentary by the France 2 television channel broadcast in October, she claimed it was not intended to be racist but to show that Taubira was a “savage”.
“I’d prefer to see her swinging from a tree than in government,” she said, adding “I have friends who are black”.
Leclère’s Facebook post and subsequent comments led to her expulsion from the FN in December.
But on Tuesday a court in Cayenne, in France’s overseas department of French Guiana decided to punish her further, sentencing Leclère to nine months in prison, five years of ineligibility to run in elections and a 50,000 euro fine. It also handed the FN a fine of 30,000 euros.
The case came to court following a complaint filed in Cayenne by Walwari – a Guiana-based political party co-founded by Taubira. The sentence, which went beyond the demands of prosecutors who had asked for a four-month jail sentence and a 5,000-euro fine, was immediately condemned by leading National Front figures.
‘A political and partisan judgment’
The party’s vice-president Florian Philippot called it “grotesquely disproportionate”, while Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party’s founder and father of current leader Marine Le Pen, accused the court’s judges of being “traitors to the law and violators of morality”.
The FN claimed in a press release that the trial had been a “trap” and that it had been unable to find a lawyer in Cayenne to represent Leclère.
It also took issue with the president of Cayenne’s criminal court, Stéphane Rémy, due to his membership in a leftist trade union group – the Union of Magistrates. The union was involved in a controversy last year when it emerged it had in its offices a “Wall of Jerks” notice board lampooning numerous French right-wing figures – leading to accusations of political bias.
“We must vigorously denounce these incredible violations of our rule of law,” said the press release.
Taubira, who has been subject to numerous racial slurs in the past, refused to be drawn on the details of the case, saying only that the court had ruled “according to the penal code”.
“This verdict is simply a reminder of the punishment afforded by the penal code for offences like these,” she told reporters outside the France’s Council of Ministers in Paris.
Both the FN and Leclère have said they will appeal the court’s decision.
“It is totally disproportionate,” Leclère said of her sentence. “Criminals are convicted and sentenced to wear an electronic tag and I am given jail time,” she told the AFP news agency.
“I did not have racist intentions, I just received a photomontage on Facebook of which I am not the author. I’m not racist,” she continued. “It is an injustice. It is a political and partisan judgement,” she added.