A French court has sentenced a man to four months in prison after he confessed to slapping French President Emmanuel Macron.
Damien Tarrell told the court the incident was a precipitous act, but the attorney general said it was a “deliberate violent act”.
The court heard that Tarrell belonged to right-wing groups or advocated hard-right politics, and was close to the yellow vest movement.
President Macron said the attack should not be underestimated but that the response should be proportionate.
Macron had just left a hotel school in the south-eastern French city of Tan Lermitage when he headed toward a crowd of people waiting behind a metal barrier.
No sooner had he approached than Tarrell slapped him, and as he slapped the president, Tarrell was heard shouting a phrase used by soldiers in medieval battles and then said, “Down with macaroni.”
The incident was immediately condemned by all political parties in France, which comes less than a year before the presidential elections.
The Public Prosecution requested that Tarrell be held for 18 months in prison. But the court’s three judges said Tarrell should have been sentenced to 18 months in prison, including a 14-month suspended sentence.
Another defendant who filmed the incident is facing trial, for possessing weapons without a license that were found after local authorities searched his home. He hails from the same city as Damien Tarrell.
What did Tarrell tell the court?
According to Agence France-Presse, the accused appeared before the court in the city of Valence, wearing the same green shirt he was wearing on the day of his arrest.
When asked why he attacked the president, he replied that while he was waiting with his friends in the car before the accident, he thought of doing something remarkable. He said he initially considered throwing an egg or a cream pie at Macron, but insisted he hadn’t thought of slapping the president.
He reportedly told the court: “When I saw his lying friendly gaze, which was looking for me as a voter, I was disgusted.”
In his condemnation of the president’s policies, Tarrell added that he felt part of the anti-establishment yellow vest movement, which organized demonstrations against Macron during his early years in office. “I acted spontaneously,” he claimed.
What is Macron saying?
The French president initially played down the assault as an isolated incident, while stressing that “very violent people” should not be allowed to hijack public debate.
In a press conference held on Thursday before the start of France’s participation in the European Football Championship, he spoke about the incident more widely.
“There were moments of very high tension and violence in our country that I had to go through as president, during the crisis of the yellow vest movement. But society is in a different place today,” Macron said.
He added that he had decided not to take legal action himself, preferring to leave it to the judicial system.