PARIS: French far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemmour was convicted Monday of inciting racial hatred over the 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children.
A Paris court ordered Zemmour to pay a fine of 10,000 euros (more than $11,000) and several thousand euros in damages to anti-racism groups.
Zemmour’s lawyer, Olivier Pardo, said he advised his client to appeal the decision.
Samuel Thomas, president of the Maisons des Potes ("Homes of Friends"), a network of anti-racism associations, said the sentence is “very light.
"We had hoped for him to be deprived of civic rights," Thomas said. “So Éric Zemmour will be able to continue his political career.” He added: “When you’re inciting racial hatred, you’re also responsible for crimes that are committed by far-right thugs."
Zemmour, who has two prior hate speech convictions, went on trial in November on charges of “public insult” and “incitement to hatred or violence” against a group of people because of their ethnic, national, racial or religious origin.
The former TV pundit, who is running in April's presidential election, is drawing fervent audiences with his anti-Islam, anti-immigration invective. He is considered being among the major challengers to centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who is seen as the front-runner, according to polls. Macron has yet to confirm he will run for a second term.
The case against Zemmour focused on September 2020 comments that he made on French news broadcaster CNews about children who migrate to France without parents or guardians.
“They’re thieves, they’re murderers, they’re rapists. That’s all they are. We must send them back,” he said. “These people cost us money.”
Zemmour wasn't present at court for his trial or the verdict. In a statement in November, he denounced “an attempt to intimidate (him)” from prosecutors and anti-racist groups. He maintained his comments and said the political debate doesn’t take place in courts.
Zemmour is also set to go on appeal trial on Thursday on a charge of contesting crimes against humanity — illegal in France — for arguing in a 2019 television debate that Marshal Philippe Petain, head of Vichy’s collaborationist government during World War II, saved France’s Jews from the Holocaust.
A court acquitted him last year, saying Zemmour’s comments negated Petain’s role in the extermination, but explained that he wasn't convicted because he had spoken in the heat of the moment.
Zemmour has repeated similar comments in recent months, and lawyers contesting his acquittal plan to cite that point as evidence in the appeal trial.
Zemmour previously was convicted of incitement to racial hatred after justifying discrimination against Black and Arab people in 2010, and of incitement to religious hatred for anti-Islam comments in 2016. He was sentenced to pay court costs and a 5,000-euro ($5,660) fine.
He has also been tried in other cases where he was acquitted.
Zemmour is a descendant of Berber Jews from Algeria. He was born in France in 1958 to parents who came from the North African country, then a French colony, a few years earlier.