Marine Le Pen's immunity lifted: What does it mean for the French elections?
European parliament takes vote on National Front leader's tweets of Islamic State violence
EU politicians have voted to lift French far-right leader Marine Le Pen's immunity so she can be prosecuted for tweeting gruesome images of Islamic State violence, including the beheading of a US journalist.
Members of the legal affairs committee voted by 18 to three in favour of the politician losing her immunity, saying of the images: "It is beyond question that their violent nature is likely to undermine human dignity. Their publication therefore warrants the opening of criminal proceedings."
The decision was confirmed by the European parliament yesterday, following a request from a French prosecutor. Le Pen could face three years in jail if she is charged and found guilty.
"Le Pen may calculate that this is an issue that will do her no harm with hard-right supporters of her party, the Front National," says the BBC's Kevin Connolly.
This is not the first time she has lost her diplomatic immunity, which is given to MEPs to ensure free speech. She previously lost her parliamentary privilege in 2013, over comments she made about Muslims. She was prosecuted in 2015 with "incitement to discrimination over people's religious beliefs", for comparing Muslims praying in public to the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, Reuters reports. "Prosecutors eventually recommended the charges be dropped."
The latest controversy follows a separate scandal surrounding Le Pen's alleged misuse of EU funds. She "has been asked to pay back more than $320,000 [£260,000] to the European parliament because two of her aides in Brussels were actually working for her campaign in France", NPR reports. "She has denied any wrongdoing."
What did the tweets contain?
In late 2014, Le Pen posted a series of vitriolic tweets that included photographs of killings by IS, writing: "Daesh [IS's Arabic name] is THIS!" The posts drew revulsion and criticism from bereaved families and French politicians across the political spectrum.
She defended the posts by saying she had merely wanted to condemn the barbaric practices of the terror group.
"I'm a lawmaker. I'm in my role when I condemn Daesh. This is my role," she told French TV station LCP. "If I don't fulfill my role, I'm worth nothing as a lawmaker.
"Nobody can prevent a representative of the Republic from condemning Daesh's acts of violence."
France 24 says Le Pen "has so far refused to attend a police interview over the investigation… citing her status as a member of the European parliament".
Will she be prosecuted?
It is unclear whether prosecutors will take legal action before this year's presidential elections, which will be held in two rounds in April and May.
Under French law, the maximum penalty for distributing violent images is three years in prison and a fine of up to €75,000 (£64,000).