French President Emmanuel Macron is suing a billboard owner who depicted him as Adolf Hitler to protest against COVID-19 restrictions.
Michel-Ange Flori, who owns about 400 billboards in the southern region of the Var, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: “I have just learnt that I will be heard at the Toulon police station 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 the 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.”
It was shown in recent days on two billboards measuring four meters by three meters located on a four-lane road near the entrance to Toulon. Someone had written “Shame” over one of them.
People against COVID-19 restrictions in France have compared the country to a dictatorship with some of those protesting the health pass, required to visit leisure and cultural venues but soon to be extended to bars, restaurants and long-distance public transport, seen wearing yellow stars recalling the ones the Nazis forced Jews to wear.
Minister for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, has condemned the rhetoric, stating: “I wish there were many dictatorships like France around the world.”
On Tuesday, the Toulon Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation for public insult caused by Flori’s billboard.
Fleuri’s defence team may be confronted with a 2013 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which repealed the offence of insulting the president of the Republic.
The 2013 ruling, Case of Eon vs. France concerned a complaint by the French state against Hervé Eon, who waved a small placard reading “Casse toi pov’con” (“Get lost, you sad prick”) as the president’s party (then Nicolas Sarkozy) was about to pass by.
The court concluded that persecuting Eon was likely to have a chilling effect on satirical forms of expression relating to topical issues.
It added that such forms of expression could play an important role in open discussion of matters of public concern. “It is an indispensable feature of a democratic society,” the ruling added.
But the ruling also said that head of state was protected from insult and public defamation like any ordinary citizen.
Flori has defended himself, saying: “You see Hitler, but you can see Stalin, or I see Charlie Chaplin in The Dictator.
These posters aim to question this democracy where decisions are taken without discussion at a health council,” he explained.
It is not the first time his posters, which he regularly uses to comment on political or society issues, have drawn criticism or landed him in legal trouble.
In a 2019 interview with Mr. Mondialisation, he describes how he “tweets” his satirical criticisms on politicians and people in powerful positions via his billboards.
Other “victims” include IMF chief Christine Lagarde, former Interior Minister Christophe Castaner and the French police force. He set up his first billboard in 1999, mocking the Prefect of Corsica, Bernard Bonnet, which landed him in a 36-hour police detention.
It is not the first time that Macron has been compared to the German dictator.
In 2018, French newspaper Le Monde came under fire for publishing a cover photo of Macron in its weekly M magazine, that some said showed a likeliness to Hitler.
However the paper insisted that it had no intention to compare Macron to the Nazi leader and quickly apologised to its readers.