The French government has arrested at least 54 individuals in the past week for what it is defining as “hate speech” and “defending terrorism,” including a well-known comic with an extensive record of anti-Semitic remarks.
The Associated Press reports that authorities announced the 54 arrests as part of a broader measure to curb any incitement to violence in the aftermath of the mass shooting at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine that had on multiple occasions published cartoons depicting Muhammad. In its latest issue this Wednesday, the magazine also featured Muhammad on its cover.
The arrests are made possible by extensive laws on the books against hate speech, particularly anti-Semitism. While the report issued to prosecutors and law enforcement authorities in France details these laws, it does not explicitly mention Islam, the ideology the terrorists that attacked Charlie Hebdo—and an accomplice who attacked a Kosher deli last Friday—subscribe to. The AP notes that the report explicitly highlights targeting hate speech that may lead to “urban unrest,” belying a concern that France’s Muslim suburbs may revolt against the government in response to the massive support Charlie Hebdo has received in light of the attack.
Some of the cases of those arrested have been expedited to ensure that these individuals are swiftly placed in jail, though the authorities are not providing details. At least one case has already resulted in a four-year prison term—an unidentified man who resisted arrest on Tuesday night while shouting support for the Charlie Hebdo terrorists.
Among those arrested this week were four minors and the well-known comic Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, who goes by the mononym Dieudonne and has been convicted multiple times on charges of anti-Semitism. Dieudonne had stated on Facebook that he felt some sympathy for the jihadists that attacked France last week, calling himself “Charlie Coulibaly,” a hybrid of Charlie Hebdo and Amedy Coulibaly, the terrorist who took hostages at a Kosher deli on Friday in an attempt to help the Charlie Hebdo shooters escape.
Dieudonne later attacked the French government for repeatedly accusing him of breaking the law, arguing, “I am no different than Charlie.”
Dieudonne made a brief splash in American pop culture news when American basketball star Tony Parker was photographed with the comic performing a gesture Dieudonne calls the “quenelle,” which shares many similarities to the Nazi salute. Parker subsequently apologized for any offense the photo may have caused.