French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is stripped of her European parliament immunity and could now face charges over comments she made comparing Muslim street prayers to an occupation of France.
The European Parliament voted in Strasbourg by a show of hands to withdraw Le Pen’s immunity at the request of a French prosecutor.
The judicial affairs committee recommended the move last month so Le Pen could defend herself against the charges, which were filed by an anti-racism association.
Le Pen says she stands behind the remarks she made in 2010 and claims she looks forward to defending her comments in front of a judge.
“I’m going to defend myself before the court and I’m absolutely convinced that the court will rule in my favor and protect my right to say to the French the truth about the situation, notably prayers in the streets but not only that,” she told French television channel BFM.
If found guilty of inciting racial hatred, she would face a maximum penalty of one year in prison and €45,000 in fines.
The loss of immunity came at the request of a Lyon court three years after she was accused of inciting racial hatred.
A public trial in France could be a major setback for the National Front as it seeks to capitalise on Le Pen’s rising popularity to take support from the ruling Socialist Party and mainstream right European Parliament elections next year.
Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-EU party has been gaining support at the expense of President Francois Hollande’s Socialists as rising joblessness fuels support for her euro-sceptic views.
The National Front has also profited from a tax evasion scandal that prompted the resignation of ex-Budget Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, gaining support in his former district during a by-election last month.
The far-right party is tipped to make strong gains in the 2014 European elections, with one survey showing they could take 18 percent of the vote. In 2009 the National Front took just 6.3 per cent of the vote.
Le Pen has been ranked as France’s third most popular politician, placing her one place behind former President Nicolas Sarkozy, and 24 places ahead of Hollande.