FRANCE

Dieudonné sentenced over Facebook post on Charlie Hebdo attack

AFP

A Paris court on Wednesday handed controversial French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala a two-month suspended prison sentence for being “an apologist for terrorism” over a Facebook posting following the Charle Hebdo attack.

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The latest charges against the comedian, known simply as Dieudonné, stemmed from a Facebook comment posted after the January 7 Charlie Hebdo attack, in which he claimed, “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”.

The post, which has since been taken down, merged the slogan “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) – which became a global rallying cry against extremism following the attacks – and the name of Amédy Coulibaly, the gunman who killed four people at a Paris kosher supermarket.

The comedian’s comments were later removed from Facebook.

The charges of inciting hatred and being an apologist for terrorism has a maximum seven-year prison sentence and a 100,000 euro fine. Prosecutors had however sought a 200-day suspended prison sentence and a fine of 30,000 euros.

Skirting the line between free and hate speech

The comedian 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 "peddler of hate" by the government, Dieudonné has also attracted anger over sketches, widely viewed as anti-Semitic, that have occasionally prompted local authorities to ban his shows. He already has multiple convictions for hate speech to his name.

The son of a French mother and Cameroonian father, Dieudonné has waged a long legal cat-and-mouse game with French authorities as he skirts a fine line between free speech and hate speech.

Supporters of Dieudonné, as well as many who find his humour distasteful, have accused French authorities of double standards when the comedian was briefly arrested and charged just days after millions of people took to the streets across France, defending free speech and condemning the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Testifying before the court last month, Dieudonné reiterated that he condemned the attacks, “without any restraint and without any ambiguity”.

He also told the court he had wanted to take part in a mammoth march against extremism in Paris on January 11, but decided against it as he felt unwelcome, instead attending a smaller demonstration near his home in northern France. "I feel treated like a terrorist," he said.

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