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EUROPE >ECHR overturns fine for an insult against Sarkozy, citing Demirel decision as precedent

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A French court had ruled that putting former President Nicolas Sarkozy's own words on a banner, using them against him was an 'insult'. AFP photo

A French court had ruled that putting former President Nicolas Sarkozy's own words on a banner, using them against him was an 'insult'. AFP photo

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has mentioned as precedent a famous case involving former Turkish President Süleyman Demirel to rule on the heavily publicized trial against a French citizen for having insulted former leader Nicolas Sarkozy back in 2008, daily Sabah reported March 30.

The last instance of appeal overturned on March 14 a French court decision fining Herve Eon 30 euros of damage for holding a banner that read "Then get lost, you poor jerk!" The expression was originally coined by Sarkozy himself, who angrily reacted uttering these words when a citizen refused to shake his hands during a visit to the Agriculture Fair in Paris on February 2008. The phrase became world-famous after the incident.

The defendant lawyers argued that countries such as Turkey, Spain, Italy, Poland or the Netherlands have issued similar decisions. However, the ECHR interpreted the offense as "satire" and mentioned a Turkish court decision that condemned the deputy head of the Motherland Party (ANAP), Ekrem Pakdemirli, for having referred to Demirel as "the fat man of Çankaya [Palace]," among other descriptions with negative connotations. 

Pakdemirli was sentenced to a fine of $83,000. The case finally went to the ECHR, which ruled in 2007 that "politicians should be more tolerant of criticism than the [rest of] citizens."

Pakdemirli told daily Sabah that all these words he used were the same as what Demirel had said about his predecessor and founder of the ANAP, Turgut Özal. "I agree with the ECHR's decision [on Sarkozy]. I think politicians have to be more tolerant about the opposition," he said.

Following the ECHR's decision, the French government has put on its agenda the review of the law enabling the court to penalize criticisms targeting the head of state.

March/30/2013

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