French court orders Le Pen to submit to psychiatric evaluation

PARIS (Reuters) - A French court ordered Marine Le Pen to submit to a psychiatric evaluation as part of its investigation into her decision to post images of Islamic State executions on Twitter, the far right leader said on Thursday and denounced the order.

The investigation is one of a series that have distracted Le Pen’s National Rally, formerly known as the National Front, as it seeks to rebuild after her loss to President Emmanuel Macron in the second round of an election last year.

The investigation relates to three graphic images of Islamic State executions Le Pen posted on Twitter in 2015, including the beheading of American journalist James Foley.

The tribunal declined to confirm it had ordered the evaluation but said the assessments were a normal part of such probes.

“I thought I had seen it all: but no! For having denounced the horrors of #Daesh in tweets, the ‘justice’ is submitting me to a psychiatric evaluation! How far will they go?” Le Pen wrote on Twitter. “It’s UNBELIEVABLE.”

She later told reporters she would skip the test. “I’d like to see how the judge would try and force me do it,” she said.

Le Pen’s criticism fits the party’s narrative that it is persecuted by judges as part of an attempt by the establishment to undermine it politically.

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Le Pen was placed under formal investigation in March on suspicion of disseminating violent images. The law states that medical evaluations must be carried out in such probes.

Le Pen and her party have been targeted by a series of other judicial probes, including over the alleged misuse of EU funds.

According to a copy of the court document dated September 11, which Le Pen published on Twitter, the judge wants the evaluation to assess if she suffers from any mental illness and, if so, if that could have affected her understanding of what she was doing when she posted the tweets.

The expert is also tasked with determining whether her mental health could be a risk to the public.

Le Pen’s hard-left rival Jean-Luc Melenchon said the evaluation was unnecessary because Le Pen was “politically responsible for her political acts.”

“This is not how we will weaken the far-right,” he said.

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said in a statement: “A court orders a psychiatric assessment for Marine Le Pen. Words fail me! Solidarity with her and with the French who love freedom!”

Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Simon Carraud; Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome; Editing by Richard Lough and Matthew Mpoke Bigg