A 28-year-old man Damien Tarel, who slapped France President Emmanuel Macron in the face, was sentenced to a prison term of 18 months, 14 of which were suspended.
In a viral video on Tuesday, Tarel, who wore a face mask, was seen exchanging words with Macron while gripping his arm. He hit the president on his left cheek while shouting, ‘A Bas La Macronie,’ which meant, ‘down with Macronia.’
He has been in custody since the incident and was arraigned before a court in the town of Valence on Thursday.
He told law enforcement officers that he “acted instinctively and without thinking” after waiting for Macron outside a school in the village of Tain-l’Hermitage.
According to BFM, a France news medium, he said had been annoyed by Macron’s decision to come to greet him — an electoral tactic that he did not appreciate.
“Macron represents the decline of our country,” he added.
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 president during his visit to the Drome region, according to the BFM news channel.
The prosecuting counsel Alex Perrin called for an 18-month prison term after describing the slap as ‘absolutely unacceptable’ and ‘an act of deliberate violence.’
Under French law, prison sentences of fewer than two years can be converted into non-custodial punishment, meaning it is unlikely that Tarel would spend time behind bars even if the court followed the prosecution’s plea.
Macron has shrugged off the assault, 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.