Activist ‘within his rights’ to insult French president

Ever felt the desire to give your head of state an earful but were unsure how far to go? On Thursday a European court made a potentially landmark ruling deciding that telling a French President to 'Get lost you sad idiot' was absolutely fine.

Activist 'within his rights' to insult French president
A 2012 campaign poster for Nicolas Sarkozy, vandalized with the phrase at the heart of a European court ruling on March 14th. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

We've all experienced the desire  to confront a prime minister or president and tell them exactly what we think of them. But given the opportunity to come face to face with a country's most powerful person, what can an ordinary citizen get away with saying without being hauled before a court?

France and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg clearly have a difference of opinion in what should be classed as offensive.

On Thursday the European court  made a potentially landmark  ruling in favour freedom of speech in deciding France was wrong to convict a member of the public, who had offended the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy in public in 2008.

In August that year, leftist activist Hervé Eon had stood before Sarkozy during a presidential visit to Laval, in western France, brandishing a sign bearing the words “Casse-toi, pov’con”, which means “Get lost you sad idiot.”

Eon did not pluck the insulting phrase from thin air, of course. "Casse toi, pov'con," which was also translated in the ECHR ruling as “Get lost you sad prick,” was the same one Sarkozy  himself had infamously used to rebuke a member of the public, who had refused to shake his hand at an event in Paris earlier that year.

But the president's guards did not see the irony and Eon was immediately taken in for questioning. He was subsequently convicted of ‘causing offence to the chief of state’ and fined €30.

CLICK HERE FOR TEN OF THE BEST FRENCH INSULTS (Warning! – not all are appropriate to say to the president)

After an unsuccessful appeals process within France, Eon was finally vindicated in Strasbourg, when the court found his punishment by the French government had been “disproportionate.”

France had violated the man's freedom of expression, the ECHR ruled saying the criminal penalties handed down by Paris were “likely to have a chilling effect on satirical contributions to discussion of matters of public interest."

Watch the video that led to the potentially landmark European Court decision:

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