European Union lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to lift the EU parliamentary immunity of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen for tweeting pictures of Islamic State violence.
Le Pen, a member of the European parliament, is under investigation in France for posting three graphic images of ISIS executions on Twitter in 2015, including the beheading of United States journalist James Foley.
Responding to a request from the French judiciary, the EU lawmakers originally voted in the legal affairs committee voted to lift her immunity. Thursday's vote - carried by a "big majority" - confirmed a preliminary decision taken on Tuesday by the legal affairs committee of the European Union legislature.
Le Pen’s immunity shields her from prosecution; lifting it will permit legal action against her. The offence being considered is “publishing violent images,” which under certain circumstances can carry a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($79,650).
Le Pen is involved in a tight three-way race to succeed Francois Hollande as French President in this spring's election, but she has already seen her earnings as MEP cut for a different case involving alleged misuse of EU funds. Le Pen denounced the legal proceedings against her as political interference in the campaign, where she is the lead candidate, and called for a moratorium on judicial investigations until the election period has passed.
Opinion polls suggest she is on course to win the first round in April, but centrist Emmanuel Macron is gaining ground and looks likely to beat her in the May runoff vote. A Figaro/LCI poll on Sunday put Mr Macron on 58% in the runoff, against 42% for Mrs. Le Pen.
The polls also show that her legal battles seem to have little effect on her supporters.