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Controversial French Comedian Convicted of 'Glorifying Terrorism' in Facebook Post

The comedian Dieudonné received a two-month suspended jail term and a hefty fine for a Facebook status posted in the wake of the attacks that left 17 dead in Paris.

by Melodie Bouchaud
Mar 18 2015, 7:05pm

Photo by Michel Euler/AP

French comedian Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala was sentenced Wednesday to a two-month suspended jail term over a Facebook status posted in the wake of the January attacks that left 17 dead in Paris.

A Paris court accused Dieudonné of "glorifying terrorism" after the comedian posted that he felt like "Charlie Coulibaly," a play on words that merged the "Je Suis Charlie" solidarity slogan with the name of Amédy Coulibaly, the gunman who killed four hostages at a kosher supermarket in Paris on January 9.

The court ruled Wednesday that Dieudonné's Facebook post constituted a violation of the right to freedom of expression, and that the posting fell within the framework of "apology of terrorism," an offense that can carry a five-year prison term in France.

Related: Here's how freedom of expression is defined — and being challenged — in France.

In addition to the suspended sentence, the court handed the comedian a 30,000 euro ($32,000) fine, which will turn into a 200-day jail sentence if left unpaid. Dieudonné has a reputation for avoiding payment of the various fines he has accumulated during his incendiary career.

Speaking in court in January, Dieudonné argued that he wasn't glorifying terrorism with his Facebook posting, and that he "unreservedly and unambiguously condemned" the January attacks.

He told the court that he posted the message after feeling "excluded" from the Paris solidarity rally to honor the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. After being ignored by the interior ministry following a request to participate in the march, Dieudonné said he was left feeling like "a terrorist." His posting, he told the court, was "a message of peace."

"Does Jesus not embrace both Charlie and Coulibaly?" he asked the court. "Does he not bring the two together in the same peace?"

The 49-year-old French-Cameroonian comedian is no stranger to controversy. His career has been marked by anti-Semitic provocation and convictions for defamation, libel, and incitement to hatred and racial discrimination.

Dieudonné, whose stand-up shows were banned in France in 2014, is best known for creating the "quenelle," a provocative gesture that resembles the Nazi salute.

In September 2014, a Paris court opened a preliminary investigation after Dieudonné uploaded a video in which he compared the beheading of American journalist James Foley by Islamist militants to the killings of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The video has since been removed.

In October, Dieudonné joined forces with reviled French essayist Alain Soral to launch a new French political party. At the time, Soral was under investigation for publishing anti-Semitic literature.

Related: Banned comedian and incendiary essayist form controversial new political party in France.

The disgraced comedian will be in court again Thursday, this time on charges of anti-Semitism that stem from comments he made about French journalist Patrick Cohen.

In his show called "Le Mur" (The Wall), which was secretly filmed in 2013 by reporters from the television channel France 2, Dieudonné was heard saying, "When I head Patrick Cohen talk, I think to myself, you know, the gas chambers… Too bad."

On March 4, a court banned all sales of DVDs of "Le Mur" on grounds that passages of the show constituted "a denial of crimes against humanity." The comments about Cohen, the court said, actively "condoned crimes against humanity." Dieudonné appealed the decision last week.

Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter@meloboucho