Comedian to stand trial as France cracks down on hate speech

January 15, 2015 5:53 am

One Charlie Hebdo front cover currently circulating on social networks, which dates from October 2012, is titled “Mohamed Merah, come back! They’ve gone mad.”

Merah is the Al-Qaeda militant who went on a killing spree in southwestern France in March 2012, murdering seven people including Jewish children and soldiers.

Charlie Hebdo at the time said it wanted to mock the proliferation of ultra-radical Islamist networks.

“I can’t stand Dieudonne and his nauseating clique, but it seems there are double standards for freedom of expression in France,” one Twitter user said.

– A fine line –

Basile Ader, a lawyer specialising in media law, said there was a difference between mocking religion and condoning terrorism.

“Charlie Hebdo mocks religions, which is not banned in France as the offence of blasphemy is no longer in our legislation,” he said.

“Dieudonne condones an act of terrorism that has just taken place and could bring others to say: ‘If he tells us it’s ok, we must do it’.”

Under a law adopted in France late last year to fight the threat of jihadism, actions condoning or inciting terrorism are subject to much harsher sanctions than before.

On Monday, a 34-year-old man who hit a car while drunk, injured the driver, and subsequently praised the acts of last week’s gunmen when police detained him, was sentenced to four years in prison.

And a 22-year-old in the Paris suburb of Nanterre was sentenced to a year in jail for posting a video mocking one of the policemen shot dead last week.

Ader said he was shocked by the length of that sentence, adding that the current emotion and “psychosis” in France were likely to have been a factor.

Dieudonne has since removed the remark from his Facebook page, which Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve this week deemed “contemptible”.

But he has left his response on Facebook to the minister’s comment, accusing the government of trying to “ruin my life” when “I am only trying to make people laugh”.

Ader said that where comedians are concerned, judges tread a fine line between respecting their right to humour and respecting the law.

But he said he believed “there is no ambiguity” about Dieudonne who “clearly makes anti-Semitic comments and can no longer benefit from this impunity given to humorists, even if he makes people laugh.”

Part 1 | Part 2

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