President Of France Sues Citizen Over Billboard Comparing Macron To Hitler

from the is-this-really-your-first-time,-Emmanuel? dept

Some countries still have laws that forbid insulting political leaders. But you kind of assume enforcement of these laws will be left to the Erdogans and Dutertes of the world.

Apparently not. In France, where free speech protections are mostly known for their exceptions, President Emmanuel Macron has apparently been so insulted that it's resulted in the government taking legal action against a citizen armed with nothing more than an overused comparison and a handful of billboards. (h/t Sarah McLaughlin)

French President Emmanuel Macron is suing a billboard owner who depicted him as Adolf Hitler to protest COVID-19 restrictions.

Michel-Ange Flori, who owns about 400 billboards in the southern département of the Var, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: "I have just learnt that I will be heard at the Toulon police station tomorrow following a complaint by the president of the Republic."

"So in Macronia you can make fun of the prophet's ass, that's satire, but to make the president look like a dictator is blasphemy," he added.

The offending poster portrays Macron in the uniform of Nazi leader Hitler, with a small moustache, a lock on his forehead and the acronym of the presidential movement LREM turned into a swastika. A message reads: "Obey, get vaccinated."

Insulting the president is no longer a criminal offense in France. That law was amended in 2013 after the European Court of Human Rights condemned the law in a ruling. But the president can still take action against alleged defamation, like any regular citizen. But, unlike regular citizens, the president's complaints are handled by government prosecutors and apparently involve local law enforcement.

To be in power is to invite criticism. The correct response is to take it, not prosecute it. But the French government held onto its criminalization of insulting political leaders for more than a century and only amended it after it was forced to by a court decision.

But this was perhaps to be expected from the French government. After all, it could barely be bothered to do anything more than indulge in a photo op in the wake of the murders of contributors to satirical publication Charlie Hebdo by Islamic extremists. And it followed up this blatant and literal attack on free speech by arresting a local comedian for his anti-Semitic statements.

The explanation by the government's legal team doesn't make anything better. It simply says Macron was offended and wanted to sue.

Jean Ennochi, a lawyer for Macron, said the legal complaint was filed for Macron in a personal capacity "because of the offensive nature of the comparison of the President of the Republic with Adolf Hitler".

A representative of Macron's party said it had filed a separate complaint alleging insult and incitement of hatred.

Obviously, being compared to Hitler isn't flattering. But it's the rare political leader who makes it through their tenure in office without being compared to Hitler at some point. Obviously, there's only one Hitler and thousands of politicians who've done nothing more harmful than anger some citizens by being on the "wrong side," or supporting the "wrong" policies, or merely holding a position of power. A ham-fisted comparison doesn't "incite" hatred. It only affirms the hatred some French citizens already feel towards Macron. It definitely shouldn't result in lawsuits, law enforcement involvement, and the deployment of government prosecutors.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: adolf hitler, billboards, emmanuel macron, france, free speech, hate speech, lawsuits, michel-ange flori, political speech


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 3 Aug 2021 @ 7:25pm

    So this means…

    Godwin's Law is now an actual law in France?


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

Introducing the new Techdirt Insider Chat, now hosted on Discord. If you are an Insider with a membership that includes the chat feature and have not yet been invited to join us on Discord, please reach out here.

Loading...
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.