Fresh setbacks for French 'anti-Semitic' comic fighting bans

10th January 2014, Comments 0 comments

A controversial French comic accused of anti-Semitic routines on stage, Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, suffered further legal setbacks Friday, a day after the government succeeded in banning the first of several his shows.

Officials in the central towns of Tours and Orleans on Friday prohibited shows there going ahead.

Lawyers for the comedian -- who goes by his first name -- failed in a bid to have France's highest administrative court, the State Council, overturn the Tours ban. But they vowed they would be back Saturday to try to have the one for Orleans struck down.

On Thursday, after a day of court battles, the lawyers at the last minute lost a ban on Dieudonne's first road show, in Nantes.

The legal tussling pits France's commitment to freedom of expression against restrictions on hate speech.

The French government has branded Dieudonne -- who has been repeatedly convicted in the past under anti-racism legislation -- a "pedlar of hate" for his sketches widely viewed as anti-Semitic.

The interior ministry has urged local authorities in towns to host his nationwide run of stand-up shows to ban them on public order grounds.

The comic has challenged each ban individually in local courts. And, so far, lost.

His supporters, and even some who reject his brand of humour but defend his right to express himself, have expressed concern over what they say is a troubling breach of freedom of speech.

Several legal experts told AFP that the court decisions on Dieudonne will serve as precedents in other cases -- and warned that the European Court of Human Rights could still scuttle France's stance.

But French government lawyers argue the fundamentally racist nature of the comedian's act means it cannot be afforded protection under France's constitutional provisions on freedom of speech.

Preview performances of his "The Wall" tour in Paris included a sketch in which the comedian mimed urinating against a wall. He then reveals that it was the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

He also directs volleys of abuse at prominent French Jewish performers, rounding off one rant about radio presenter Patrick Cohen with the observation: "Gas chambers ... a shame."

He has also been slammed for his trademark "quenelle" stiff-arm gesture, which has been described as a disguised Nazi salute.

The gesture, which Dieudonne insists is purely an "up yours" to the French establishment, has taken on a life of its own.

Some people have been caught on camera doing the quenelle at Auschwitz or outside synagogues in France.

Dieudonne, now 47, started his career as part of a double act with a Jewish childhood friend, Elie Semoun.

But he veered towards anti-Semitism and the change burst into the open in 2003, when he concluded a televised sketch for which he had dressed up as an extremist Jew with a Nazi salute.

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© 2014 AFP

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