French far-right commentator Eric Zemmour attends a meeting for the promotion of his new book “La France n’a pas dit son dernier mot” (France has not yet said its last word) in Beziers, France, October 16, 2021. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

PARIS, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Eric Zemmour, the right-wing commentator whose surge in popularity and incendiary rhetoric on Islam and immigration are shaping France’s presidential election campaign, is due in court on Wednesday on charges of inciting racial hatred.

The case relates to remarks that Zemmour, who has not officially declared his candidacy for the April, 2022, vote, made last year when he called unaccompanied child migrants “thieves, killers and rapists.”

Zemmour’s lawyer Olivier Pardo said opponents were seeking to stir up a ‘trial by public opinion’ and that the charges against the writer, 63, were unfounded.

“He’s wanted for ‘racial hate’ but as far as I know an unaccompanied minor is neither a race, nor a nation, nor an ethnicity,” Pardo told RMC radio.

A polarising figure who has made a career pushing the bounds of political correctness, Zemmour has eaten into the voter base of both the more established far-right Rassemblement National party of Marine Le Pen and the mainstream conservative right.

Some opinion polls show him edging ahead of Le Pen in the race for a place in the second-round runoff vote. Challengers for the traditional centre-right party’s nomination have responded by toughening their language on immigration and identity.

France’s broadcasting regulator in March handed a 200,000 euro fine to right-wing broadcaster CNews which aired Zemmour’s migrant comments.

During the September, 2020, CNews debate, Zemmour said of unaccompanied child migrants: “They’ve no reason being here, they are thieves, they are killers, they are rapists, that’s all they do, they should be sent back.”

Pardo said Zemmour would not attend the trial because he didn’t want the court to become a “political arena”.

Reporting by Richard Lough
Editing by Peter Graff

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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