In the latest example of the European Union’s disturbing new tendency toward outright suppression of any speech that bureaucrats in Berlin, Brussels, and elsewhere find unacceptable for any number of reasons, former French National Front leader Marine Le Pen has been formally charged with circulating “violent messages that incite terrorism” for a series of tweets she sent after the massacre at Paris concert hall the Bataclan back in 2015.
The move comes after French President Emmanuel Macron announced early this year that, in an effort to “defend liberal democracy”, he would push through legislation this year to fight the spread of “fake news” in France. Macron went on to criticize Russian media in particular and accusing RT, a Moscow funded TV channel, of deliberately sowing disinformation and discord (sound familiar?).
While Macron’s announcement was cheered by many on the left, conservatives and those with anti-establishment or right-wing views are (so far justifiably) worried that they might become targets (because there’s no better way to defend an open society than to crack down on free speech and enforcing not only official censorship, but, by extension, the self-censorship that these policies encourage.)
And now they have even more reason to be concerned as French prosecutors move to punish – and possibly imprison – a political rival despised by the ruling party.
The charges stem from a series of tweets Le Pen sent in the weeks after the Bataclan massacre, where she shared disturbing photos including images from the beheading of American journalist James Foley. Le Pen later took the photos of Foley down after being contacted by his family.
Other pictures showed a man in an orange jumpsuit being run over by a rank – another showed a man being burned alive in a cage.
“Daesh is this!” Le Pen wrote in a caption. The tweets were a response to a TV journalist drawing a comparison between ISIS and the French far-right.
Le Pen was quick to point out the irony in her being charged…
“I am being charged for having condemned the horrors of Daesh,” Le Pen told AFP.
“In other countries this would have earned me a medal.”
What’s worse: Le Pen’s crime is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($91,000).
Le Pen has denounced the move as a “lowly, purely political decision” which violated her freedom of expression. Furthermore, it’s notable that the French justice system is bringing the hammer down on Le Pen less than a year after she lost to Macron in France’s second-round presidential runoff.
It’s not just France… Over in the UK, a newly created national security unit set up to combat fake news has elicited outrage from conservatives, who note that the agency is seemingly set up to punish and suppress speech that it suspects of being deliberate disinformation – even if said speech is an example of political satire, which the agency says is “often confused” with real news…