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France

Insulting French president no longer an offence

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-26

Insulting the French president is no longer an offence after lawmakers voted unanimously on Thursday to scrap an 1881 decree that made being rude about the head of state punishable by law. Nicolas Sarkozy is the last president to have employed it.

Being rude to the French president is no longer an offence after parliament agreed on Thursday to amend legislation dating back to 1881 in favour of freedom of speech.

Whereas before any rude remark risked an automatic fine for “offending the head of state”, the president is now reduced to the same category as ministers and parliamentarians and would need to have a judge prove there had been slander or defamation.

MPs and senators voted unanimously to do away with the law in order to meet European standards. France’s Socialist Party, which proposed the change, described the law as “unjustifiable in a modern democracy”.

The offence, which was introduced in 1881 under press freedom regulations (ironically), was punishable until the year 2000 by a jail sentence of between three months and one year.

During General Charles de Gaulle’s tenure, six people were convicted of the offence, but its use had dwindled in recent decades.

‘Get lost Sarkozy’

The change came after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in March that France had violated a demonstrator’s right to freedom of expression when it fined him for holding a banner up to Nicolas Sarkozy reading: “Get lost, jerk.”

That slogan was made famous in France by the former president himself, when he insulted a visitor at an agricultural fair in 2008. The man refused to shake the then president’s hand, resulting in Sarkozy’s vulgar reaction, a video of which went viral. The court in March judged that left-wing activist Hervé Eon, whose banner used the same expression in addressing the president, was being satirical.

The court said his conviction and 30 euro ($40) fine were out of proportion to his protest and that his right to freedom of expression had been violated.

Anyone found by a judge to have slandered the president still runs the risk of a fine of up to 45,000 euros, but only once the matter has been resolved in court.

President François Hollande has so far shown a thick skin to insults from the public, despite a string of unkind nicknames such as “Flamby”, a brand of wobbly caramel pudding and “Mr Little Jokes”.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-07-26

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