French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala was arrested Wednesday for being an “apologist for terrorism” after he published a post on Facebook that expressed sympathy with one of the Paris gunmen, reported the Guardian. French prosecutors had opened a case against the controversial comedian, known by his stage name Dieudonné, on Monday, after he wrote: “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly,” mixing the “Je Suis Charlie” solidarity slogan with a reference to gunman Amédy Coulibaly, who killed four people at a kosher supermarket last week.
This is not the first time the notorious comedian has been in hot water over controversial remarks. Dieudonné has a number of convictions in France for inciting anti-Semitism and had several of his one-man shows banned last year by French courts, according to the BBC. A similar furor emerged last September after he mocked the execution of American journalist James Foley by ISIS militants, which led to an investigation on the same charge: apologizing for terrorism.
Dieudonné, who is half-Breton and half-Cameroonian, was born in the Paris suburbs in 1966, according to the Independent. He became known for his anti-racism stand-up double-act routine with Jewish comedian Elie Semoun. For reasons that remain unclear, the comedian’s routines took an inexplicable turn toward race around 2004, when he popularized the “quenelle” gesture, a reverse Nazi salute that has been widely seen as anti-Semitic. Prime Minister Manuel Valls last year characterized the quenelle as a “gesture of hatred.”
Valls was among the most prominent voices condemning Dieudonné’s Facebook post on Monday, saying that freedom of speech should not be confused with anti-Semitism and racism, said the BBC. If convicted for his Facebook post, Dieudonné could face up to seven years in prison and a $5,900 fine. The comedian has responded to the criticism by accusing the French government of “trying to kill me by any means,” reported France24. “When I speak … you look for a pretext to ban me. You consider me an Amédy Coulibaly, while I'm no different from Charlie,” he said.
Since last week’s attacks on the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo magazine and the kosher supermarket, France has ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and the glorification of terrorism. By Wednesday, 54 people were arrested for those offenses, according to the Associated Press. France has strong laws against hate speech, but the government has raised questions about whether it is impinging on the same freedom of speech it has defended for Charlie Hebdo.