Did you Say « Freedom of Speech »? French comedian to be tried after Charlie Hebdo gag

DieudonnePARIS (Reuters) – A French comedian is to be tried on suspicion of glorifying terrorism after writing on Facebook he felt « Charlie Coulibaly », a word play combining the widespread « I am Charlie » vigil slogan and the name of one of the three gunmen.

Amedy Coulibaly, whose name inspired the joke, killed a policewoman and four customers at a kosher shop last week in Paris, two days after two gunmen shot 12 people at and near the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper.

Prosecutors launched an inquiry on Monday into the comment by Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has already faced accusations of anti-Semitism and mocked the killing of U.S. reporter James Foley by Islamic State militants.

He was detained for questioning earlier on Wednesday and prosecutors said in the evening he would face trial.

His lawyer Jacques Verdier told BFM-TV that arresting him for the « Charlie Coulibaly » comment was « completely out of proportion ». If found guilty of glorifying terrorism, Dieudonne could face up to seven years in jail.

Dieudonne drew international attention last year after former France striker Nicolas Anelka celebrated an English Premier League goal with a salute popularised by him and which critics say had an anti-Semitic connotation.

The Paris-born son of a Cameroonian father and French mother, Dieudonne says he is not anti-Semitic.

He has been repeatedly fined for hate speech in France where local authorities in several towns have banned his shows as a threat to public order.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said this week European officials should work more closely with Internet companies to eliminate hate speech and content glorifying terrorism.

More than 3.7 million people marched through the streets of France on Sunday, many of them holding « I am Charlie » signs to honor the memory of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, policemen and shoppers killed by the Islamist gunmen.

(Reporting by Chine Labbe and Nicolas Bertin; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Mark John and Alison Williams)

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