A court on Thursday sentenced to four months in prison a man who slapped President Emmanuel Macron across the face after being angered by what he said was the French leader’s “friendly and mendacious” look.
Damien Tarel, a 28-year-old mediaeval history enthusiast, was handed a prison term of 18 months, 14 of which were suspended, after slapping Macron on Tuesday.
He has been in custody since the assault, which a prosecutor at the hearing called “absolutely unacceptable” and “an act of deliberate violence”.
Tarel was placed under arrest following the verdict from the court in the southern city of Valence and will spend the night in jail as he begins his sentence.
In its verdict, the court followed a recommendation from prosecutors for an 18-month sentence, but said he should serve only four, after a fast-track hearing.
Tarel, who had risked a maximum three-year jail sentence and a fine of 45,000 euros ($55,000), had waived his right to a full-blown trial.
The long-haired history buff and board games enthusiast told investigators that he “acted instinctively and without thinking” after waiting for Macron outside a school in the village of Tain-l’Hermitage.
In court, he expressed sympathy for the anti-government “yellow vest” movement and said that he and two friends had considered throwing an egg or a cream pie at the head of state during his visit to the Drome region, according to the BFM news channel.
– Ordered to get a job –
“Macron represents the decline of our country,” he told the court.
Tarel, unemployed and living on benefits with his disabled girlfriend, said he had been annoyed by Macron’s decision to come to greet him — “an electoral tactic that I didn’t appreciate”, BFM reported.
In court, Tarel added that it was part of Macron’s strategy “to target young French people” as the president prepared for next year’s election.
In a video of the incident, a smiling Macron can be seen striding towards a crowd of onlookers including Tarel who are being kept behind a barrier.
“When I noticed his friendly and mendacious look I understood that he wanted to turn me into a somebody who would vote for him,” Tarel told the court.
The slap, Tarel said, came after “I was flooded with a feeling of injustice”.
In its verdict, the court also ordered Tarel, who had no prior convictions, to find a job or a job training programme, and banned him from carrying any weapon for five years.
Prosecutor Alex Perrin told the court he was worried that Tarel might commit similar offences again, saying he had detected “a kind of cold determination” in the defendant, and was suspicious of his links to “martial arts, the Middle Ages and the world of mangas”.
– ‘Ordinary guy’ –
Tarel’s lawyer, Elodie Guellier, acknowledged that her client’s act had been “particularly inappropriate”, but added that he was “just an ordinary guy who had never hit anybody” and who understood the gravity of his act.
Macron himself has shrugged off the incident, calling it an “isolated event”, and he has vowed to continue meeting voters despite concerns for his personal security.
Asked about it again during an interview on Thursday with BFM, he called it a “stupid, violent act” and suggested it was a consequence of the poisonous atmosphere found on social media.
“You get used to the hatred on social media that becomes normalised,” he said. “And then when you’re face-to-face with someone, you think it’s the same thing. That’s unacceptable.”
Leaders across the political spectrum have united in condemning the slap, with many seeing it as a symptom of the fraught political climate and declining standards of public debate just weeks from regional elections and 10 months from presidential polls.
“The political climate is turning to vinegar. It’s dangerous what’s happening,” senior leftist MP and regional election candidate Clementine Autain told France Info.
Others saw the assault as a sign of how Macron, a reformist former investment banker, continues to inspire visceral rejection from many French people.
His presidency was rocked by the anti-government “yellow vest” protests in 2018-2019, which were driven in part by anger at his economic reforms as well as his abrasive personality.
Macron, 43, whose personal ratings have risen recently, is expected to seek a second term next year.
Polls show him holding a narrow lead over his main rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Other modern French presidents have been targeted in shootings, including post-war leader Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac.
In 2011, right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy had a security scare in southwest France when he was grabbed violently by the shoulder by a 32-year-old local government employee.