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France arrests 54, including comedian Dieudonne, suspected of promoting terror

Controversial French comedian, Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, known for his anti-Semitic views, is among the dozens rounded up
Dieudonne M'bala M'bala arrives for an earlier court date in 2013 (AFP)

France on Wednesday launched a crackdown on people said to be defending or glorifying terrorism, arresting 54 across the country.

A controversial French comedian, Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, who is known for his anti-Semitic views, was among those rounded up and is now facing seven years in prison for an “apology for terrorism” with a Facebook joke.

Dieudonne, as he is known, said that “As for me, I feel I am Charlie Coulibaly" - the remark was a reference to Amedy Coulibaly, a gunman who took over a kosher convenience store and shot four people last Friday, and Charlie Hebdo, the magazine that was attacked last Wednesday by two gunmen who have been linked to the subsequent supermarket killing spree.

The comment was a play on the Je Suis Charlie hashtag and slogan that emerged in the wake of the magazine massacre, during which 12 people were killed by brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi.

Government spokesperson Stephane Le Foll said some of the 54 people detained have already been convicted - the convictions include a four-year jail term for a man who reportedly tried to resist arrest on Tuesday night and shouted support for Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers while apparently inebriated.  

Over the same period, some 15 cases were opened over graffiti on mosques, and 10 for degrading Muslim places of worship "with weapons, fire or explosions". 

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls lashed out at the comedian in the National Assembly on Tuesday, saying that Dieudonne was "peddler of hate” and insisting there is a grave difference between the “impertinent” satire of Charlie Hebdo and “anti-Semitism, racism and negationism” expressed by Dieudonne.  

However, many commentators and journalists were quick to take to social media to point to what they claim are double standards.

Dieudonne, who popularised an arm gesture that resembles a Nazi salute, has also been convicted before of racism and anti-Semitism, and had his show banned last year.

He took down the "I am Charlie Coulibaly" comment after 30 minutes and later tried to clarify that he was not supporting terrorism. 

"Whenever I speak, you do not try to understand what I'm trying to say, you do not want to listen to me. You are looking for a pretext to forbid me. You consider me like Amedy Coulibaly when I am not any different from Charlie," he wrote in a follow-up Facebook post.