France Arresting Comedian Diedonne Over His Facebook Post Comes At An Uneasy Time

Mere days after a 1.3 million strong crowd marched in Paris to mourn of those who lost their lives in the Charlie Hebdo terror attack last week and in fierce support of free speech, local authorities arrested French comedian Dieudonné over a Facebook post for its alleged incendiary nature.

The notorious Dieudonné, or Dieudonné M’bala M’bala as he is also known, updated his Facebook status on Sunday to read:

Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly.

Dieudonné's reference was a combination of the slogan "Je Suis Charlie" that honored the Charlie Hebdo staff who were the target of two Al Qaeda-linked brothers, and Amédy Coulibaly, the gunman with ties to the attackers on the satirical magazine who killed four people at a Jewish supermarket and a French policewoman the day before. Prosecutors opened the case against him on Monday for being an "apologist to terrorism," reported The Guardian, and arrested him on Wednesday.

Dieudonné's posting was made after he attended the Unity Rally on Sunday. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who also was in attendance at the march, called Dieudonné's remarks "contemptible."

In response, the comedian wrote an open letter to Cazeneuve explaining his words:

[The French government is] trying to kill me by any means. For a year, I have been treated like public enemy number one, while I seek to do nothing but make people laugh. When I speak … you look for a pretext to ban me. You consider me an Amédy Coulibaly, while I'm no different from Charlie.

Dieudonné has long been a highly controversial figure in French society; his brand of humor has seen him fined and his shows repeatedly banned. His run-in with authorities this time isn't a first — Dieudonné has been arrested 38 times over the years for violating anti-hate laws, and he has been called an anti-semitic Holocaust denier out to incite hatred.

But no matter Dieudonné's lack of tact or taste. His most recent arrest seems hypocritical of French authorities in light of the Charlie Hebdo attack and the debate surrounding free speech. Charlie Hebdo was accused of similar "hate speech" that Dieudonné has been for years — so isn't his post, in all its offensive glory, the very thing that the Charlie Hebdo staff were murdered in cold blood for? Doesn't the right to free speech extend to the right to offend? Perhaps it's time for French authorities to re-think what their notions of freedom of speech are, before they, too, become its very adversaries.

Some of Dieudonné's supporters have begun tweeting under the hashtag #JeSuisDieudonne.

Image: Getty Images