France Arrests Comedian Dieudonné for Condoning Acts of Terrorism on Facebook

54 arrested in crackdown; Interior Minister promises 'total severity' against free speech the government doesn't like


Yesterday I wrote about how the controversial and allegedly anti-Semitic French political comedian Dieudonné was being investigated by a Paris prosecutor over a Facebook post in which he wrote "I feel like Charlie Coulibaly"—mashing together the names Charlie Hebdo and Amedy Coulibaly, the mass murderer in the kosher supermarket. Well, today, Dieudonné has been arrested on suspicion of condoning acts of terrorism, a crime with a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a €100,000 fine.

The arrest is part of a nationwide clampdown on free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, reports The Wall Street Journal:

Since last week, French authorities have moved to crack down on those who glorify the attacks amid fears they could encourage would-be terrorists to act.

Several people across France have been arrested since the attacks for condoning terrorism, with some already sentenced in court. Kamal Belaidi was convicted to a four-year jail term on Monday after overtly supporting the killing of the three police officers and shouting "Allahu akbar" to police officers at the scene of a car accident he was involved in, the local deputy prosecutor Christophe Delattre said Tuesday.

"We must act with a total severity on those who express racism, anti-semtism or islamophobia—as Mosques were also targeted," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a radio interview after Dieudonné's detention. The day before, Mr. Cazeneuve had said the comedian showed "irresponsibility, disrespect and a propension to fuel hatred and division simply unbearable."

A shocking 54 people have been arrested for speech offenses in the past week, reports the Associated Press. Jacob Sullum has a column this morning explaining why cracking down on speech is the exact wrong response to anti-speech violence. To which I would add two points:

1) As I argue in my latest editor's note on policing in America, most laws tend to be enforced more stringently on disfavored minorities. Muslims are the least favored minority in France*, which means that any crackdown is likely to come down disproportionately on their heads (despite the Interior Minister's nod toward "Islamophobia"), increasing both the perception and reality of unfairness. And to the extent that alienation and non-assimilation of the Muslim minority contributes to the pool of potential malefactors, that seems strategically unwise.

2) Any speech made criminally taboo will thrive unchallenged in the shadows, rather than be refuted and ridiculed out in the open. If you're alarmed by Dieudonné's infamous quenelle gesture, how popular do you think it will get if he's behind bars?

This is a worldwide teaching moment for free speech. France so far seems to be flunking.

* UPDATE: Zaid Jilani Tweets that "roma are the most disfavored" minority in France, Muslims second, and as I have no quick measurement to support either claim, let's let it rest there.