Comedian to stand trial as France cracks down on hate speech

January 15, 2015 5:53 am
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French comedian Dieudonne, seen here in 2012, is a controversial figure whose trademark "quenelle" hand gesture looks like an inverted Nazi salute, a claim he denies/AFP
French comedian Dieudonne, seen here in 2012, is a controversial figure whose trademark “quenelle” hand gesture looks like an inverted Nazi salute, a claim he denies/AFP
Paris,France, Jan 15 – Controversial French comedian Dieudonne was arrested Wednesday and will stand trial over a Facebook comment suggesting he sympathised with one of the Paris attackers, as France cracks down on those who condone terrorism.

The arrest was one of 54 cases for “condoning terrorism” or “making threats to carry out terrorist acts” opened since Islamist gunmen last week killed 17 people in a three-day shooting spree that targeted the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, police and a Jewish supermarket.

In the midst of a mounting debate on the limits of free speech, prosecutors started a case against the comedian Monday after he posted a message on Facebook saying: “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”.

The message was a mix of the catch-cry “Je suis Charlie” used in global tributes to the slain magazine journalists and the name of one of the gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly, who shot dead four Jews at the supermarket on Friday and a policewoman the day before.

Dieudonne was taken in for questioning on Wednesday morning and released later in the day. His lawyer Sanjau Mirabeau said he would appear in court on February 4.

The comedian was “free and reassured” and would appear on stage as planned in the evening, Mirabeau added.

“The freedom of expression applies to everyone, at least this evening, ” the lawyer said.

– ‘Land of freedom of expression?’ –

Another of the comedian’s lawyers, David de Stefano, said the arrest was “shocking.”

“We are in the land of freedom of expression? This morning, the government provided the demonstration of that,” he said sarcastically.

Dieudonne is a controversial figure who has often made headlines, most notably with his trademark “quenelle” hand gesture that looks like an inverted Nazi salute, but which he insists is merely anti-establishment.

Branded a “pedlar of hate” by the government, Dieudonne has also attracted anger over sketches widely viewed as anti-Semitic that have occasionally prompted local authorities to ban his shows.

But the polemicist’s arrest over his Facebook post has sparked debate over where freedom of expression starts and ends, particularly after millions took to the streets in support of free speech following last week’s attacks.

The magazine has also repeatedly provoked outrage in the past.

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