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Comic tried for Facebook post

February 4, 2015

On trial for condoning terrorism, a French comedian says he condemns last month's Paris attacks "without any ambiguity." Prosecutors say Dieudonne supported the assailants on Facebook and should be fined 30,000 euros.

Frankreich Komiker Dieudonné
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Blumberg

In the first day of his trial on Wednesday, the French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala denied that he verbally supported the men whose attacks left 17 dead in Paris last month. On January 14, police had arrested Dieudonne, as he is known, alleging that he had used Facebook to joke about the killings, which began at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on January 7.

"I feel treated like a terrorist," Dieudonne told the court in Paris as his trial opened on Wednesday.

Dieudonne's fateful Facebook post, "I feel like Charlie Coulibaly," combined "Je suis Charlie" - "I am Charlie": the catchall for free-speech movements following the shootings - and the name of Amedy Coulibaly, who killed a policewoman and four men at a kosher supermarket two days after the magazine attack. For his not-so-bon mot, French police arrested Dieudonne as one of dozens of cases opened for "condoning terrorism" after the attacks, which killed 17 people.

Mass arrests of people accused of verbally supporting the attacks have sparked concerns over freedom of expression. However, on Wednesday, prosecutor Annabelle Philippe remained steadfast, saying that Dieudonne had presented "in a favorable light the acts committed by Amedy Coulibaly."

"He knows exactly how to play with words," Philippe said on Wednesday. "It's his job."

Arrest spree

A law adopted last year, allows French officials to sanction actions deemed to condone terrorism more harshly than they had before. Those who flout speech laws too freely could receive up to seven years in jail and a fine of 100,000 euros ($114,000). Some of those arrested immediately after the attacks have already received prison sentences ranging from one year to four for their words.

A 34-year-old man, who hit a car while drunk, injured the driver and subsequently praised the acts of the gunmen when police detained him, received a four-year prison sentence. A 22-year-old in the Paris suburb of Nanterre received a year in jail for posting a video mocking one of the policemen shot dead.

Branded a "peddler of hate" by France's government, Dieudonne has attracted frequent anger for anti-Semitic sketches, occasionally seen his shows banned by local authorities, and attracted further scrutiny for his trademark "quenelle" hand gesture, which looks like an inverted Nazi salute. In 2014, a French court banned Dieudonne from performing in the western city of Nantes because of his anti-Semitic act.

On Tuesday, a knife-wielding assailant attacked three French soldiers outside a Jewish community center in the city of Nice.

mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)