French interior minister seeks to ban controversial comedian's tour

Jan. 7, 2014 at 12:03 AM
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PARIS, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has reiterated his determination to ban an upcoming nationwide tour by controversial comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala.

Valls told the Journal Du Dimanche Sunday he is sending background "circulars" to local authorities in French cities where the comic is scheduled to appear this week as part of effort to enforce anti-hate speech judgements against him.

M'Bala M'Bala, who goes by the stage name Dieudonne, was set for performances in Nantes Thursday, Tours Friday and Orleans Saturday as part of a planned 10-city tour.

He faces $88,000 in fines for an anti-Semitic video posted on the Internet and seven other convictions for violating hate speech laws, but has claimed he is financially insolvent and unable to pay.

He is also expected to be sued by Radio France International for publicly warning one of its reporters, Patrick Cohen, he would have to leave France "if the wind changes."

Valls told the newspaper he wanted to be "efficient" and quickly ban the shows by sharing his evidence with local prefectures that Dieudonne is violating French hate speech laws with his performances.

However, whether he had the legal grounds to do so is unclear and has ignited a debate over the limits of free speech in France.

Dieudonne performs to packed houses at a Paris theater he owns and ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Anti-Zionist Party in the 2012 general elections.

He denies he is anti-Semitic, asserting he is merely opposed to Israel's actions in the Middle East and thus is politically anti-Zionist. But French political leaders have roundly denounced his performances as a spectacles of anti-Jewish hate.

"This is a fight on several fronts that I have been leading for months," Valls said Sunday. "The fight against the far right is simple when it comes to dissolving small groups, such as after the death of Clement Meric [a far-left activist beaten to death by neo-Nazi skinheads in June].

"This is more complicated in my opinion, especially on the left, when anti-Semitism takes different forms. It is sometimes found in our popular neighborhoods and told to schoolchildren that 'the enemy is the Jew.'"

Dieudonne, Valls told the JDD, "is deeply anti-Jewish. Against him, we must lead a political struggle of social mobilization. We must strictly enforce the law: He was sentenced, he must pay [the fines]. You must remove the so-called insolvency."

The issue is not one of free speech for performers, he maintained, because Dieudonne's shows have gone from entertainment to political "public meetings."

"I will send a circular to prefects early this week -- we want to be effective in [banning] the early shows [of the tour]," he said.

French "Nazi hunters" Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, winners of the French Legion of Honor for their work in identifying the perpetrators of deportation of Jews from France during World War II, called Sunday for a protest at Dieudonne's Thursday appearance in Nantes, La Nouvelle Republique reported.

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