French far-right figure Eric Zemmour, who is widely expected to run for the presidency next year, went on trial on Wednesday charged with racist hate speech after a televised tirade against unaccompanied child migrants.
Mr Zemmour, 63, did not appear in person but said in a statement that he refused "to accept that a political debate takes place in a courtroom".
He has two prior hate speech convictions and is being tried 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.
"Today I am pursued by the judiciary on the basis of freedom-killing laws for having criticised people, who in their own words. 'are there to pillage France'," Mr Zemmour said.
"Illegal immigrants who, for the most part, are neither minors nor unaccompanied ... but often delinquent."
Mr Zemmour's lawyer, Olivier Pardo, said the charges 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," Mr Pardo said.
The essayist and political talk show commentator is widely expected to soon announce his candidacy in France’s April presidential election.
His latest trial is over remarks he made during a September 2020 talk show debate on right-wing channel CNews.
Mr Zemmour said that young, unaccompanied migrants had "no reason being here", committed heinous crimes – "that's all they do" – and should be sent back.
France's broadcast regulator fined the channel €200,000 ($226,430) over the remarks.
Mr Zemmour has found fervent audiences for his Islamophobic, anti-immigration invective in the early stages of the race.
Opinion polls show he could reach the second-round run-off vote in April next year.
He has won support from the more established far-right Rassemblement National party of Marine Le Pen and the mainstream conservative right.
In the 2017 election presidential election, Ms Le Pen was in a run-off vote against Emmanuel Macron.
Most mainstream political leaders united behind Mr Macron for the second round and he won 66 per cent of the vote.