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Marine Le Pen acquitted in trial over posting images of IS atrocities

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(FILE) French far-right leader Marine Le Pen (R) and Member of Parliament Gilbert Collard arrive at the  arrive at the French National Assembly in Paris, 2017.
(FILE) French far-right leader Marine Le Pen (R) and Member of Parliament Gilbert Collard arrive at the arrive at the French National Assembly in Paris, 2017.   -   Copyright  GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP
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A French court on Tuesday acquitted far-right leader Marine Le Pen following a trial over posting pictures of the so-called Islamic State (IS) terror group's atrocities on social media.

The president of the National Rally (RN) party was accused of breaking hate speech laws by tweeting three images of executions by IS militants in December 2015 alongside the words "That's what the Islamic State is."

Her lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut hailed the verdict as "a great victory for the law".

"Freedom of speech was at stake in this case, and it was recognised without restrictions for a first-class political leader," Bosselut told reporters.

Le Pen claims the tweets were published in response to a journalist who drew a comparison between her party and IS.

The dispute came just weeks after 130 people were killed by jihadists in the Paris terror attacks.

One of the pictures showed the body of James Foley, an American journalist who was beheaded by Islamic militants in 2014. Le Pen later deleted the picture of Foley after a request from his family, saying she had been unaware of his identity.

Prosecutors had requested a €5,000 fine for circulating "violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity".

But Nanterre Tribunal magistrates said in their Tuesday ruling that the dissemination of these images constituted a "coherent" response from Le Pen to "a controversial attack". They also ruled that their publication did not amount to incitement since "the images were accompanied by comments" which did not "present violence in a favourable light".

Le Pen had previously said the trial had a "scent of persecution" and had slammed the case as a violation of free speech.

She was stripped of her parliamentary immunity over the pictures and refused an order to undergo psychiatric tests as part of the inquiry.

The acquittal comes as Le Pen is gearing up for next year's presidential race. She has already announced that she will run for the presidency again and could face President Emmanuel Macron again if he seeks re-election in 2022. She lost to him in a 2017 runoff.

Gilbert Collard, an MEP for the National Rally, was also acquitted by the Nanterre tribunal after posting gruesome pictures of IS atrocities online.