French comedian Dieudonne on trial for condoning terrorism

4th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

French comedian Dieudonne told a court Wednesday he condemned last month's Paris attacks "without any ambiguity" as he stood trial on charges of condoning terrorism over a comment suggesting he sympathised with the gunmen.

The polemicist was arrested on January 14 after saying "I feel like Charlie Coulibaly", a mix of the slogan "Je suis Charlie" that became a global rallying cry against extremism and the name of one of the gunmen who killed a policewoman and four Jews.

His arrest was one of dozens of cases opened for "condoning terrorism" or "making threats to carry out terrorist acts" after the attackers killed 17 people in the January 7-9 shooting spree that also targeted satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, sparking concerns over freedom of expression.

"Of course I condemn the attacks without any restraint and without any ambiguity," Dieudonne told the court in Paris.

The comedian is a controversial figure who has often made headlines, most notably with his trademark "quenelle" hand gesture that looks like an inverted Nazi salute, but which he insists is merely anti-establishment.

Branded a "pedlar of hate" by the government, Dieudonne has also attracted anger over sketches widely viewed as anti-Semitic that have occasionally prompted local authorities to ban his shows.

But his arrest -- and that of other people, some of whom were sent straight to jail for one to four years -- raised questions about free speech in France.

Dieudonne told the court he had wanted to take part in a mammoth march against extremism in Paris on January 11, but decided against it as he felt unwelcome, instead attending a smaller demonstration near his home in northern France.

"I feel treated like a terrorist," he said.

Dieudonne faces up to seven years in prison and a 100,000-euro ($114,000) fine if found guilty.

© 2015 AFP

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