French President Emmanuel Macron has spent the past few weeks battling criticism of his tough coronavirus measures.
Today, one of them is facing legal problems because of a billboard depicting the leader of the country as Adolf Hitler.
The protest poster was part of a larger backlash against Macron as he seeks to make life difficult for unvaccinated people with strict rules to fight infections.
His policies have contributed to a boom in registrations for vaccination appointments, but also fueled fierce opposition among a minority who see them as an attack on cherished national freedoms.
The poster, which appeared in the port city of Toulon in southern France, depicted Macron in uniform as the Nazi leader with the trademark mustache. The swastika armband has been changed to read LREM – La République en Marche – Macron’s ruling political party.
An accompanying slogan read: “Obey. To get vaccinated.”
The creator of the billboard, Michel-Ange Flori, said on social media Wednesday that he would attend a hearing at the Toulon police station on Thursday.
“I have just learned that the complaint emanates from the President of the Republic himself”, he writes. “So in macronism, you can make fun of the prophet’s ass, it’s considered satire, but to caricature the president as a dictator is considered blasphemy.”
The public channel France Bleu reported that an investigation was opened last Tuesday by the Toulon prosecutor’s office for “public insult” after posters depicting Macron as Hitler appeared on two billboards.
NBC News has not confirmed whether Macron has sued Flori. Neither Macron’s office nor Toulon police responded to a request for comment.
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The American Jewish Committee said Thursday it was “sickened” by the billboards.
“The Nazis killed six million Jews. The vaccine saves millions of lives. Comparisons to the Holocaust are scandalous and desecrate the memory of victims and survivors,” he added. said on twitter.
The offense of “insulting the President of the Republic” was repealed in 2013 after a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, but the Head of State is safe from injury and public defamation like any other citizen.
Macron imposed some of Europe’s toughest Covid-19 mandates earlier this month, hoping to speed up vaccinations and avoid a new national lockdown following an increase in cases of the Delta variant highly infectious.
He said on Monday that 40 million people in France – around 60% of the population – had received at least the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with 4 million vaccines given in the past two weeks alone.
France’s parliament on Monday passed a law requiring all healthcare workers to be vaccinated by September 15 and introducing a special pass required for anyone wishing to travel within the country or visit a restaurant, shopping center or a hospital.
To get the pass, people must prove that they are fully vaccinated, have recently recovered from the virus, or tested negative again.
Macron first presented the plan in a televised address to the nation on July 12.
“We were facing a very problematic fourth new wave. People weren’t as concerned about the virus as they used to be and the vaccination rate was not high, ”said Jean-David Zeitoun, chief medical officer and founding partner of the Paris-based medical research center Inato.
“Macron’s significant push triggered several reactions in France. On the one hand, there was a huge increase in vaccination, which was great, ”he said.
“On the other hand, some people reacted with anger … but this appears to be a minority group.”
Some 160,000 people, including far-right activists and members of the French yellow vests movement, demonstrated across the country on Saturday.
Paris riot police fired tear gas during protests in the nation’s capital, as many protesters shouted “freedom!” And said the government shouldn’t tell them what to do.
Macron called for national unity and said earlier this week that protesters are “free to speak in a calm and respectful manner,” but that will not make the coronavirus go away.
He also lashed out at those fueling anti-vaccine sentiment and protests. During a visit to a hospital in French Polynesia earlier this week, he asked: “What is your freedom worth if you tell me ‘I don’t want to be vaccinated’, but tomorrow you infect your father, mother or me. -same ?
More than 111,000 people with the virus have died in France.
Paul Galouzeau de Villepin contributed.