French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour was on Monday sentenced to pay €10,000 for inciting hatred and racial abuse.
Zemmour, 63, described unaccompanied migrant children as "thieves", "murderers" and "rapists" during a September 2020 programme on the CNews television channel, on which he was a pundit.
"They have nothing to do here, they are thieves, they are murderers, they are rapists, that's all they are, they must be sent back and they must not even come.
"It's a permanent invasion" and "a problem of immigration policy", he added then. He did not attend the trial in November and was not be present at the ruling.
Zemmour denounced "an ideological and stupid condemnation" and announced he will appeal.
Prosecutors had demanded he be fined €100 per day for 100 days — for a total €10,000 — or be sent to prison if he doesn't pay.
A representative of the public prosecutor's office had said the comments from Zemmour were "contemptuous, outrageous", showed "violent rejection" and "detestation" of the immigrant population and had crossed "the limits of freedom of expression".
'Not an ounce of racism'
Zemmour has already been prosecuted 15 times over the past decade for racial abuse, incitement to hatred and denial of a crime against humanity and was convicted twice for incitement to hatred.
His lawyer, Olivier Pardo had said that "there is not an ounce of racism in Eric Zemmour" and that his client was simply stating "reality", sometimes in a "brutal manner, with his words". He said the September 2020 comments amounted to "a political position".
He also argued that the charge of incitement to hatred did not hold up because "unaccompanied minors are neither a race, nor a nation, nor an ethnic group".
The Paris prosecutor's office had also requested a fine of 5,000 euros for the CNews publication director, who was tried alongside Eric Zemmour as is customary in press trials.
Some 30 charities, including SOS Racisme, the League of Human Rights (LDH) and the Licra, as well as some twenty departmental councils — care for unaccompanied minors in France is managed by the departments' social aid for children — had banded together for a civil case.
In their pleadings, they insisted on the responsibility of the news channel, for whom "hate speech" is "the core business".
Arié Alimi, a lawyer for the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme (LDH), said the reaction and sentencing is "an important decision because behind this media project, there is a political project, a project of hatred that tends to stigmatise people because of their origin, their religion, their race".
Several court cases to come
Zemmour will also be tried on appeal on Thursday for disputing crimes against humanity after claiming in October 2019 on CNews that Marshal Philippe Pétain had "saved" French Jews.
He had been discharged in February 2021 with the court considering that the remarks had been made "out of the blue during a debate on the war in Syria."
His lawyer will ask for the postponement of this hearing, less than three months before the first round of the presidential election and "because it is an offence of opinion," Pardo told AFP.
Furthermore, the court decided on Friday that he will be tried in May 2023 for aggravated defamation, for comments made in 2019 on the "feminist movement" and the "LGBT movement".