A 28-year-old man has been jailed for four months for slapping French President Emmanuel Macron in the face.
Damien Tarel was quickly arrested after the swipe that caught Mr Macron’s left cheek with an audible thwack on Tuesday, as the French leader was greeting a crowd.
The court in the south-eastern city of Valence convicted Tarel on Thursday on a charge of violence against a person invested with public authority.
He was sentenced to four months in prison and given an additional 14-month suspended sentence, and also banned from ever holding public office and from owning weapons for five years.
Tarel described himself as a right-wing or extreme-right “patriot” and member of the yellow vest economic protest movement that shook Mr Macron’s presidency in 2018 and 2019. He shouted a centuries-old royalist war cry as he hit Mr Macron.
During Thursday’s trial, Tarel testified that the attack was impulsive and unplanned, and prompted by anger at France’s “decline”.
He sat straight and showed no emotion as he was sentenced but his girlfriend broke down in tears.
Poised and calm, he firmly defended his action and his views on Mr Macron, without providing details of what policies he wants France to change.
Tarel acknowledged hitting the president with a “rather violent” slap. “When I saw his friendly, lying look, I felt disgust, and I had a violent reaction,” he told the court. “It was an impulsive reaction… I was surprised myself by the violence.”
While he said he and his friends had considered bringing an egg or a cream pie to throw at the president, he said they dropped the idea and insisted that the slap was not pre-meditated.
“I think that Emmanuel Macron represents the decline of our country,” he said, without explaining what he meant.
He told investigators that he held right or ultra-right political convictions without being a member of a party or group, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The slap called attention to an assortment of ultra-right groups bubbling beneath France’s political landscape, which are considered increasingly dangerous despite their small following.
Mr Macron would not comment on Thursday on the trial, but insisted that “nothing justifies violence in a democratic society, ever”.
“It’s not such a big deal to get a slap when you go toward a crowd to say hello to some people who were waiting for a long time,” he said in an interview with broadcaster BFM-TV. “We must not make that stupid and violent act more important than it is.”
At the same time, the president added “we must not make it banal, because anyone with public authority is entitled to respect”.