A French public prosecutor said Tuesday that charges against far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is standing trial for comments she made five years ago comparing Muslim street prayers to Nazi occupation, should be dropped.
“Madame Le Pen in denouncing prayers in public space addressed not the entire Muslim community but a minority and was only exercising her freedom of expression,” the prosecutor, Bernard Reynaud, said during a court hearing, according to French news site Le Monde.
The judgment will be handed down on Dec. 15, the site reported.
Le Pen, whose National Front party is known for its anti-immigration and anti-Islam views, has said the government is using the judiciary to deflate her party ahead of regional elections in December. The leader has worked to rebrand the modern-day National Front as a less vociferous version of the anti-immigrant party founded by her now estranged father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has in the past been convicted for racist speech targeting Jews.
Marine Le Pen arrived Tuesday in court to face charges of inciting racial hatred during a rally in Lyon.
The comments in question were made in 2010. In those remarks she said: "I'm sorry, but for those who really like to talk about World War Two, if we're talking about occupation, we could talk about that [street prayers], because that is clearly an occupation of the territory."
"It is an occupation of sections of the territory, of neighborhoods in which religious law applies, it is an occupation. There are no tanks, there are no soldiers, but it is an occupation anyhow, and it weighs on people."
In July 2013, Le Pen was stripped of her European Parliament immunity over the comments. But she has questioned the timing of Tuesday’s hearing.
"We are just a month ahead of the regional elections and this case is five years old. Couldn't it wait another month?" she said to reporters as she arrived at the tribunal.
"I have the right, as a political leader, to evoke a crucial issue and it's even a duty for me to do it,” she said, describing herself as a victim of "judicial persecution.”
Le Pen, who has seen her popularity rise in France of late, faces up to a year in prison and a fine of $51,000 if found guilty. Despite the potential jail term, political experts say she could emerge from the trial even stronger among many National Front voters.
Marine Le Pen has scored high in all popularity polls before the regional elections. She's hoping to win votes in the context of Europe's refugee crisis — what she calls a "migratory submersion."
"I think that acting as a victim as she does is going to be more useful than bad [to her image]," historian Jean Garrigues told the Associated Press. "We can see that this theme of an invasion that could be related to an occupation, it works. It does have a political efficiency."
Political analyst Thomas Guenole said Le Pen's trial wouldn't be problematic to the majority of National Front voters who share far-right or very conservative views.
But Le Pen has been trying in recent years to widen her base and capitalize on opposition to Europe's economic policy.
Le Pen has tried to soften the party's image since she took over from her father in 2011.
She kicked her father out of the party he founded this summer, after he repeated his view that the Nazi gas chambers were merely a "detail" of history.
Al Jazeera and wire services