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France’s Left-wing press and unions have been accused of abandoning a journalist who received death threats over a documentary on the influence of radical Islam.

Ophélie Meunier, 34, was placed under police protection after a programme on Islamist influence in the northern town of Roubaix aired on the private M6 channel.

Amine Elbahi, 26, a Muslim in Roubaix who denounced the spread of radical Islam in the programme, has also been placed under protection. His lawyer said he had been called an infidel and threatened with decapitation.

“What I said upset people. Given the threats I am receiving my aim must have been right,” said Mr Elbahi, a lawyer.

The controversy over the programme has been thrust to the centre of the French presidential election campaign in which the topics of immigration and Islam loom large, amid the rise of populist candidates.

The documentary, Zone Interdite, highlighted an association granted almost €65,000 by the local council to help teach poorer pupils but which prosecutors later said was used to pay for Islamic education instead. Under French secular law, public bodies are banned from subsidising religious charities.

The film also featured a restaurant that has cubicles for women to eat without being seen by men, a toy shop selling faceless dolls for Muslims who believe that that facial features are anti-Islamic, and a shop selling a book that appeared to encourage armed jihad.

Politicians were swift to condemn the death threats.

Interior Minister Gérard Darmanin said that “every time a journalist is threatened they will benefit from police protection”.

Eric Zemmour, 63, the anti-Islam pundit running for president, expressed shock at what he called “the customs and traditions of totalitarian Afghanistan”.

“Look what happens when you show the Islamisation of our country to the French people,” he said.

However, the programme’s director on Tuesday complained that Left-wing press and journalists’ unions had been slow to offer support for a colleague under threat.

“It is important to be able to denounce a dangerous ideology without being branded Islamophobic,” said director Michaëlle Gagnet who expressed regret that only “Right-wing or even far-Right media” had initially offered support.

Many residents of Roubaix, including the mayor, said the documentary was biased and gave a false impression of the town.

But lawyer Richard Malka, who represents the documentary’s producer, said: “This isn’t about adhering to what is said in the documentary – just as it wasn’t about appreciating caricatures published in Charlie Hebdo. This is about denouncing death threats.”

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