We perish because we know not… #TLENews
The French comedian Dieudonné claimed to be the victim of double standards on freedom of speech as he appeared in court for the third time in a week.
The comedian was on trial accused of making an “apology for terrorism” after he posted a Facebook video associating himself with the man who murdered four people in a kosher supermarket in Paris last month.
Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, 48, is already awaiting judgment following a trial last week for “incitement to racial hatred” against Jews. He was tried on Tuesday for “insulting a member of the government” after he described the Prime Minister Manuel Valls as a “semi-Down’s-Syndrome Mussolini” in 2013.
The comedian, who has three previous convictions for making anti-Semitic remarks, is the most high-profile defendant so far in a series of prosecutions on the basis of “apology for terrorism” since the jihadist killings in Paris almost a month ago. According to figures released today, 41 people have been tried and 18 of them have received short prison sentences. The state prosecutor asked the court to impose a €30,000 fine on the comedian.
On the day of the “marches for the Republic” after the Paris killings, Dieudonné posted a video of himself on his Facebook site. After mocking the media superlatives about the marches, he went on to say: “As for me, I feel I am Charlie Coulibaly”.
Amédy Coulibaly was the gunman who murdered a policewoman the day after the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine on 7 January and then killed four people at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in eastern Paris the following day.
In court in Paris, Dieudonné said that he “condemned” the jihadist attacks “without reservation and without ambiguity”. “I was deeply upset [by the Charlie Hebdo murders],” he said. “Of course, I also am Charlie.”
“At the same time, I feel that I am treated like a terrorist myself… I am hunted down for every quip I make.”
By calling himself “Charlie Coulibaly”, he said, he was trying to make a “peaceful” point, which had been “taken out of context”. He was actually saying that he was a martyr to freedom of speech like Charlie Hebdo but he was treated by the government and the French media as if he were a terrorist like Amédy Coulibaly.
The comedian claimed that his remarks had been useful in staring a “debate” in France on the true limits of freedom of speech.
Dieudonné achieved international notoriety a year ago when thefootballer Nicolas Anelka performed his trademark arm signal, the “quenelle”, during a premiership match. Anelka was later suspended for making an anti-Semitic gesture.
The “debate” on free speech which Dieudonné claims to have started has mostly taken place on his own websites and those of his devoted fans. The mainstream French media has expressed some doubts about the rash of arrests and convictions for “apology for terrorism”.
Mostly, however, these articles have concerned the questioning of an eight-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl who made statements at school saying they “supported the terrorists”.
The French government – and even the far-right leader Marine le Pen – have dismissed Dieudonné’s claims to be a warrior for freedom of speech. The Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that there was a difference between Charlie Hebdo’s “impertinent” attacks on jihadism and remarks justifying the murder of innocent people.
A similar argument was made today in the newspaper Le Monde by the philosopher Ruwen Ogien. He said that Dieudonné was muddling the distinction between a right to “offend or scandalise” and a right to encourage acts of “concrete damage” against individuals or groups.