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French comic Dieudonne gets prison sentence for hate speech

A court in Belgium has sentenced French comedian Dieudonne to two months in prison for making anti-Semitic jokes during a show. The controversial humorist has repeatedly been convicted of racism in France.

Dieudonne M'bala M'bala was not present when the court in the eastern city of Liege delivered its verdict Wednesday. Apart from a prison sentence, the comic was also given a 9,000-euro ($9,534) fine.

The court found Dieudonne had spread racist ideas by making discriminatory, anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying remarks during a 2012 comedy gig near Herstal, a court spokeswoman said. Judges said the comments, made before an audience of more than 1,000 people, were clear calls to hatred and violence against Jews. He was also ordered to pay for the text of the judgement against him to be printed in two major French-language Belgian newspapers.

"For me this is more than satisfying, this is a major victory," Eric Lemmens, a lawyer for Belgium's Jewish organizations, said.

Free speech campaigners, meanwhile, have criticized the verdict. Dieudonne, who has faced a number of similar court cases in France, insists he is not anti-Semitic and has previously described himself as an anti-racism activist.

Sympathizing with terrorists

In March, a French court gave Dieudonne a two-month suspended sentence for condoning terrorism following the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris that killed 17 people. "I feel like Charlie Coulibaly,"he wrote on Facebook, refering to one of the attackers, Amedy Coulibaly, and parodying the "Je suis Charlie" slogan that rapidly became a rallying cry against the killings.

Dieudonne began his comedy career in the early 1990s as a double act with Jewish comedian Elie Semoun. In 2002, he began openly criticizing Jews and Israel, and in 2004 ran in the European elections for a pro-Palestinian party.

He has since become notorious for exploiting racial stereotypes in his comedy material, and for inventing the "quenelle" hand gesture, an inverted Nazi-like salute.

nm/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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