Being rude to French president no longer an offense

French President Francois Hollande unveils the new official Marianne post stamp at the Elysee Palace during the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris, July 14, 2013. Francois Mori/Pool
French President Francois Hollande is trying to keep a stiffer upper lip. Credit: Reuters

Being rude to the French president is no longer an offense after parliament agreed Thursday to amend legislation dating back to 1881 in favor 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.

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

That slogan has been infamous in France since Sarkozy used the same words in 2008 to insult a man in a crowd who refused to shake his hand, and the court judged that left-wing activist Herve Eon was being satirical with his protest banner.

It 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.

President Francois Hollande has so far shown a thick skin, however, as critics have given him a string of unkind nicknames like “Flanby,” a brand of wobbly caramel pudding, and “Mr. Little Jokes.”


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