TOULON, France — A French court on Friday found a 62-year-old man guilty of insulting President Emmanuel Macron by depicting him as Adolf Hitler in protest of the government’s COVID-19 policies.
The court handed down a fine of 10,000 euros ($12,000) to Michel-Ange Flori, a former advertising executive, who had posted an image of Macron looking like the German dictator on a billboard in southern France.
France scrapped a ban on “offense to the president” in 2013 but, like any other citizen, the head of state is protected by a law against “public insult,” though such cases rarely go to trial.
Following a complaint from Macron’s LREM party, prosecutor Laurent Robert argued in court that Flori had shown “an obvious willingness to do harm.”
On one poster put up in July — only days after the government announced plans to introduce a COVID “health pass” — Macron was depicted as wearing a Nazi uniform and a Hitler mustache with a caption reading: “Obey. Get vaccinated.”
A month later, when an investigation of the poster was underway, Flori put up another one, this time depicting Macron with French wartime leader Philippe Petain, and wearing the same trademark cap.
NEW ???? Macron sues a billboard operator for depicting him as Hitler in a banner. pic.twitter.com/FlqEpNXGOg
— Insider Paper (@TheInsiderPaper) July 31, 2021
Flori argued in court that he had a “right to use humor” and said he would appeal Friday’s verdict.
“The president, who is always so quick to defend freedom of expression, believes that it does not extend to his own august person,” said Flori’s lawyer, Beranger Tourne.
Tourne acknowledged that while his client may have been “irreverent, vulgar and rabble-rousing,” that made him “in no way guilty” of the charges.
He said the posters had to be seen in the context of a “polemical and political debate” over the health pass, which proves vaccination or inoculation against the virus to enter restaurants and other public places, or a recent negative test.
Around 20 people turned up outside the courthouse in support of the defendant, carrying placards saying “I am Flori.”
Flori, who used to own 600 outdoor advertising spaces in southern French cities, has held on to two of them that he uses for personal messages, including his support for health workers, or for France’s national soccer team.
Flori has previous convictions, including for violence against a person of authority, and for theft.