France drops law that makes insulting the president a criminal offense
Change to law pushed through after conviction of man who held up a sign telling then-president Nicolas Sarkozy to get lost
Being rude to the French president is no longer an offence after parliament amended legislation dating back to 1881 in favour of freedom of speech.
Previously any rude remark risked a fine and criminal conviction for “offending the head of state”. But the change was pushed through after criticism from the European court of human rights.
In March, the court ruled that France had violated the right to freedom of expression after giving a criminal conviction to a man holding a cardboard sign telling the then-president Nicolas Sarkozy to get lost.
Hervé Eon, 61, a leftwing activist, held up his sign as Sarkozy’s motorcade drove past during a presidential visit to Laval, western France, in 2008. The small A4-sized cardboard sign did not feature Sarkozy’s name but said simply: “Casse-toi pov’con.”
The line, which loosely means “Get lost, you prat” had been uttered by Sarkozy himself months earlier when a man refused to shake his hand at an agricultural fair, causing media outrage at his non-presidential language and demeanour. It later became a widely used political slogan against the president used by the left on stickers and posters.
Eon, a former social worker, was arrested as soon as he got out his sign.
The French state prosecutor brought a case against him for offence against a head of state, and he was ordered to pay a symbolic fine of €30 and given a criminal conviction. But European human rights court judges found the sign was of a satirical nature and ruled it did not warrant a criminal conviction.
Some French senators warned recently that scrapping the offence of offending the head of state would leave a legal void. So parliamentarians agreed that the president would from now on fall into the same category as ministers and MPs: against whom there is an offence of slander or defamation. This crime is punishable by a fine of up to €45,000. The state prosecutor could open a case but only at the demand of the president.