French President Emmanuel Macron is suing a billboard owner who depicted him as Adolf Hitler to protest COVID-19 restrictions.
Michel-Ange Flori, who owns about 400 billboards in the southern département of the Var, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: "I have just learnt that I will be heard at the Toulon police station tomorrow following a complaint by the president of the Republic."
"So in Macronia you can make fun of the prophet's ass, that's satire, but to make the president look like a dictator is blasphemy," he added.
The offending poster portrays Macron in the uniform of Nazi leader Hitler, with a small moustache, a lock on his forehead and the acronym of the presidential movement LREM turned into a swastika. A message reads: "Obey, get vaccinated."
It was shown in recent days on two billboards measuring four meters by three meters located on a four-lane road near the entrance to Toulon. Someone had written "Shame" over one of them.
The Toulon Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation for "public insult" on Tuesday.
The offence of "insulting the president of the Republic" was repealed in 2013 after a European Court of Human Rights ruling condemning France, but the head of state is protected from insult and public defamation like any ordinary citizen, even if prosecutions, sometimes perceived as an attack on freedom of expression, are rare.
Flori has defended himself, saying: "You see Hitler, but you can see Stalin, or I see Charlie Chaplin in The Dictator."
These posters aim to question "this democracy where decisions are taken without discussion at a health council," he explained.
It is not the first time his posters, which he regularly uses to comment on political or society issues, have drawn criticism or landed him in legal trouble.
People against COVID-19 restrictions in France have compared the country to a dictatorship with some of those protesting the health pass — currently required to visit leisure and cultural venues but soon to be extended to bars, restaurants and long-distance public transport — seen wearing yellow stars recalling the ones the Nazis forced Jews to wear.
Minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune has condemned the rhetoric, stating: " I wish there were many dictatorships like Frace around the world."