French free to insult president as old law scrapped

Nicolas Sarkozy has hit the headlines after falling out with people during walkabouts. Picture: AP
Nicolas Sarkozy has hit the headlines after falling out with people during walkabouts. Picture: AP
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The French are now free to openly insult their president after a centuries old law was scrapped by MPs in favour of freedom of speech.

Until now, anyone being rude about the head of state faced an automatic fine under 1881 ­legislation making it an offence to “offend the president”.

The change in the law comes after EU judges ruled in March that France had violated a protester’s right to freedom of expression by fining him for waving a banner at former president Nicolas Sarkozy reading: “Get lost, you jerk” – “Casse-toi pov’con” in French.

The slogan hit the headlines after Mr Sarkozy infamously ­issued the same slur to a man at an farming trade fair who had refused to shake his hand five years ago.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that demonstrator Herve Eon’s protest banner was a “satirical” reference to the incident and his conviction and £25 fine were out of proportion to his protest.

Mr Sarkozy threatened the prosecution a year later of another man he spotted wiping his hands on his clothes after shaking hands with him during a public walkabout in the Alps.

The president stepped back and jabbed his finger at the culprit, repeating three times “Fais pas le malin” – meaning “don’t get cheeky with me”.

Sarkozy’s legal team at first said they would prosecute under the 1881 law, but eventually no action was taken.

President Francois Hollande has so far remained silent in the face of a catalogue of nicknames, including Mr Boring, Mr Normal and “Flanby”, a brand of wobbly caramel pudding.

Laws against insulting heads of state – often called lese-majeste – are in still force in several European countries, including Germany, Denmark, Holland, Spain, Monaco and Greece.

Two years ago, a Frenchman was jailed in Monaco for insulting ruler Prince Albert with a drunken tirade of abuse.

The 50-year-old was jailed for six days for shouting offensive remarks “alluding to Albert’s sexuality” in the principality’s Casino Square.

The strictest lese-majeste laws are in force in Thailand, where offenders can be jailed for up to 15 years for insulting the king.

Six years ago Swiss man Oliver Jufer, 57, was jailed for ten years for spray-painting a poster of the king with a “comedy moustache and glasses” when he was drunk. Revered King Bhumibol later pardoned the man and ­ordered him to be deported from the country.

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.