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