France Celebrates Its New Reverence For Free Speech By Arresting Comedian For His Speech

from the that's-one-way-to-do-it dept

Over the weekend in Paris there was a so-called “Unity March” in response to last week’s Charlie Hebdo attack. The photographs from the march were striking — even if the famed photo of many world leaders holding hands and marching together turned out to a photo op on a closed street, rather than with the rest of the marchers. And, of course, this was all a facade. Many of the leaders who were there oversee governments that don’t believe in free speech or a free press at all. Here, for example, is Jillian York trying to figure out if any of the leaders truly support freedom of expression.

And, to just put a big underline on the whole thing, just days later, France has arrested a famous and controverisal French comedian, Dieudonné, who has quite a reputation for his outspoken anti-semitism. The arrest was over a Facebook post that Dieudonné put up that basically mocked the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign that had become the rallying cry following the Charlie Hebdo attack, and instead indicated that he identified more with Amédy Coulibaly, a gunman who killed four people at a Jewish supermarket on Friday.

Dieudonné’s views may be offensive, ridiculous or despicable, but it’s much more offensive, ridiculous and despicable to have him arrested for a comment on Facebook. And, it’s even more ridiculous to do it when his comment concerns the way people were expressing support for freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

To then immediately arrest someone for using that freedom to give a counter-view, just seems ridiculous.

And while it’s the most high profile, Dieudonné is hardly the only target, apparently. According to the BBC, France has really ramped up attacks on free speech in response to all this damn support of free speech:

The justice ministry said earlier that 54 cases had been opened since the murders of 17 people in Paris last week. Of those, 37 cases involved condoning terrorism and 12 were for threatening to carry out terrorist acts.

Some fast-track custodial sentences have already been handed down under anti-terror legislation passed last November

  • A man of 22 was jailed on Tuesday for a year for posting a video mocking one of the three murdered policemen
  • A drunk driver was given four years in prison after making threats against the police who arrested him
  • Three men in their twenties were jailed in Toulouse for condoning terrorism
  • A man of 20 was jailed in Orleans for shouting “long live the Kalash[(nikov]” at police in a shopping center

Hey, France, I don’t quite think you’re getting the message. “I support free speech… so long as it is free speech that I sort of agree with” kind of misses the point. The views of some of these people expressing support for killers or terrorists or hatred towards certain types of people is speech that I find, personally, to be despicable. But those expressing it should be allowed to express it — broadcasting their own confusion and ignorance to the world, and allowing others to counter that speech. Arresting people based on their speech only reinforces the ridiculous idea that they’ve come upon some truth or that they’re speaking “truth to power.” They’re not. They’re speaking nonsense, but in a free society we allow nonsense to be spoken.

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Comments on “France Celebrates Its New Reverence For Free Speech By Arresting Comedian For His Speech”

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49 Comments
John Fenderson (profile) says:

The proper response to offensive speech

The proper response to offensive speech is ridicule and condemn the offensive remarks. The wrong response is arrest.

Even ignoring little things like ethics and rights, this remains true: ridiculing the ridiculous deprives it of power. Reacting with violence or oppression gives it more power.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Free speech != terrorists propaganda

“Free speech is not synonym for terrorists propaganda.”

Of course not. Free speech encompasses a lot more than “terrorist propaganda”. However, if live in a society where “terrorist propaganda” is legally punishable, then you’re living in a society that lacks freedom of speech.

“News for fellow americans – not all speech is equal.”

That’s not news. Not all speech is equal in the US either. However, that is a different point than whether or not people should be able to speak what’s on their minds.

For the record, I am not an absolutist on the free speech question (very few people, even in the US, are). However, if speech is not intended to lead to immediate harm to other people or property, it’s hard to see why it should be illegal. As an example: arguing that people should “kill for Allah” in an abstract sense should be perfectly legal. Encouraging people to “kill those people right now for Allah” should not be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Free speech != terrorists propaganda

As an example: arguing that people should “kill for Allah” in an abstract sense should be perfectly legal. Encouraging people to “kill those people right now for Allah” should not be.

Why? Because that’s your personal view on what free speech should be allowed.

I don’t agree with your definition and I do not believe western countries should continue to permit preaching of hate and killing, even if it is abstract such as “kill for Allah”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Free speech != terrorists propaganda

I don’t agree with your definition and I do not believe western countries should continue to permit preaching of hate and killing, even if it is abstract such as “kill for Allah”.

Why not? Why should anybody be restricted from saying anything? Honest question.

Saying what you like, even offending others, is eaily ignored. If you don’t like what others ae saying then don’t listen. Even if the words are full of lies or blinded by religion they are still merely sounds that can be ignored. Or words on a page or screen that can just as easily be ignored.

Going out an physically hurting someone is a whole different kettle of fish. Doing it because you are offended is no excuse – you are still responsible for your actions.

So why do we try and stop people from offending others by restricting what they are allowed to say?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Free speech != terrorists propaganda

“Why? Because that’s your personal view on what free speech should be allowed.”

It is indeed my personal view. My answer to your “why” is very simple: because that’s called freedom. If my words are not harming your person or property, then what is the justification for restricting my freedom?

Let me turn your question around: why should such speech be illegal?

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Free speech != terrorists propaganda

Why? Because that’s your personal view on what free speech should be allowed.

Nope. It’s what we as a society here in the US have decided (via our highest court, see Brandenburg v. Ohio) is the line between protected free speech and unprotected speech that is “directed to inciting, and is likely to incite, imminent lawless action”.

I don’t agree with your definition and I do not believe western countries should continue to permit preaching of hate and killing, even if it is abstract such as “kill for Allah”.

And thanks to the First Amendment you are free to say this on a US website – even if you are wrong.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Free speech != terrorists propaganda

As an aside, I believe that Michael Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, shouting “Burn this motherfucker down” and “Burn this bitch down” to the crowd after the Ferguson grand jury ruling was announced is a perfect example of what Brandenburg v. Ohio decrees as unprotected speech. Louis Head should be held accountable for this speech.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Free speech != terrorists propaganda

“Free speech is not synonym for terrorists propaganda.”

No, free speech is a synonym for unrestricted speech. American propaganda is just as offensive in some parts of the world. Do you agree with that being blocked?

Also, “terrorist” is a very pliable word, depending on which side of the fight you’re on.

“And yea, I’m totally agree with arresting people suggesting that “killing for Allah” is good idea.”

So, where’s your line? Is “we should kill for Christ” or “we should kill for “democracy” OK with you? Is it just that one word for God that offends you?

Free speech only works if offensive and unpopular speech is free. You can still react to it, and you can still look to see that those condoning murder do not follow through with action. But you have to be a special kind of idiot to think that speech is free if you’ve made a list of exceptions just because you personally don’t agree with what they say.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

That’s free speech. “I accept your right to say what you want as long as I agree with it” is not free speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Free speech != terrorists propaganda

is it the actuall killing you have issue with, or who says it…….will you be up there calling for the arrest of a western politician calling for spreading democracy to other nations, or will you be a hypocrate, or do you infact not give a shit about the value of life, i mean what do you thinks involved in western armies, recruiting our young, arming our young and then shipping them out into nations outside there borders…?fuzzy wuzzy feelings………….is it in the realms of possibility that if an invasion force of an outside nation came to your lands, that you would submit and feel no frustration, no anger that a family member or close friend was nothing more then a collateral damage to this invasion force

Assuming that “terrorists” is not a global media/government conspiracy to overblow the dangers of a threat in order to pass laws to bypass human rights, laws that are in place to restrict overbearing monarchies………What, they do it, so we must do it, and pretend to call ouselves the good guys……there are no good guys in this……

Anonymous Coward says:

EU is full of facists

The hypocritical EU has gone out of it’s way to outlaw offensive speech.

Europeans Outlaw Net Hate Speech – 9-11-02
“The Council of Europe has adopted a measure that would criminalize Internet hate speech, including hyperlinks to pages that contain offensive content.”

Greece to toughen penalties on hate speech, outlaw Holocaust denial – 2-9-14

Search: European Hate Speech Laws

In large part, the movement to circumscribe the bounds of free expression has its roots in three instruments of international law—the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Discrimination (CERD), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 10 of the ECHR, for example, grants the freedom of expression to all, but the exercise of this right is conditioned on conformity with the restrictions necessary, inter alia, “for the protection of the reputation and rights of others.”

– Danish Criminal Code criminalizes “expressing and spreading racial hatred”, making it an offense to use threatening, vilifying, or insulting language intended for the general public or a wide circle of persons.

– France’s principal piece of hate speech legislation is the Press Law of 1881, in which Section 24 criminalizes incitement to racial discrimination, hatred, or violence on the basis of one’s origin or membership (or non-membership) in an ethic, national, racial, or religious group. A criminal code provision likewise makes it an offense to engage in similar conduct via private communication.
Such laws have been deployed against individuals across a broad swath of society. In 2002, four Muslim organizations filed a complaint against author Michel Houellebecq for stating that Islam was “stupid” and “dangerous” in an interview. Although the court acquitted Houellebecq, it refrained from doing so on free speech grounds. In 2005, politician Jean Marie Le Pen, runner-up in the 2002 presidential election, was convicted of inciting racial hatred for comments made to Le Monde in 2003 about the consequences of Muslim immigration in France. And in 2008, actress Brigitte Bardot was haled into court and convicted on charges of inciting racial hatred for her criticism concerning the ritual slaughter of sheep during a Muslim feast. Bardot was ordered to pay €15,000, the fifth time she was fined for inciting racial hatred against Muslims since 1997.

– Long considered a bastion for the freedom of thought and expression, Holland has today joined in the European retreat on free speech. Together, Articles 137(c) and 137(d) of the Dutch Criminal Code operate to prohibit making public intentional insults, as well as engaging in verbal, written, or illustrated incitement to hatred, on account of one’s race, religion, sexual orientation, or personal convictions. The most prominent hate speech case to date is that of politician Geert Wilders, who was indicted by the public prosecutor in 2009 for his public comments about Muslims and Islam, and his release of a short film documenting inflammatory passages in the Qur’an.

And it goes on and on and on…so spare me your “Je Suis Charlie” you schweinhunds and join the real fight AGINST censorship.

Anonymous Coward says:

The slow simmering pot of water with the frog.

✦ It starts with a terrorist incident.
✦ Government reacts with rules intended to stop such.
✦ Effects everyone who had nothing to do with it.
✦ Citizens become resentful of unjust laws.
✦ Government doubles down, ratcheting up rules and laws.
✦ Citizens become angry, question consent of the governed.
✦ Government goes into lock down mode, enforcing nonsense laws.
✦ Citizens have enough and start protesting
✦ Government arrests anything moving they don’t beat into submission
✦ Citizens revolt.

Kinda looks like the path we’re on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“✦ Citizens have enough and start protesting
✦ Government arrests anything moving they don’t beat into submission
✦ Citizens revolt.”

I highly doubt the last part. The Gov learned from the past and they won’t rush things. Which makes the frog analogy you mentioned perfect. Boil the water to quick and the frog jumps out, heat it up slowly and you got a meal (or something like that).

If you can keep the majority of the public convinced that the nay sayers are the enemy then the citizens/majority wont revolt. Hell, you could even use pretator drones against your own citizens and noone would raise an eyebrow cough didnt that already happen? cough

My point is if you keep the anti-gov movement below a certain threshold then noone will do anything against you.

Votre (profile) says:

"It's not a code per se. More what you'd call guidelines."

I may have misheard, but didn’t a woman working for the French press recently remind everybody that France does not have the legal equivalent of the U.S. First Amendment? Something about how “free speech” in France was a general understanding rather than a right protected under French law…

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: "It's not a code per se. More what you'd call guidelines."

In a sense that true but in that the closest thing we tend to have to a First Amendment is the European Convention of Human rights but the free expression article is full of exemptions.

The upshot is that we can pretty sure we have a right to be offensive for the most part but there is criminalisation of any speech that crosses what is a very fine and undefined line between “offensive” and “incitement”. In that sense it should be ok for me to mock to people killed last week but it wouldn’t be ok for me to say I think it’s a good thing they were killed or that it should happen again.

Which is to say it’s not so cut and dry as either having our own First Amendment and not having anything like it at all. In the UK for example you have to understand that our “constitution” for lack of a better word is not a formal set of documents but built up from a web of legal history and tradition that has built up over our history.

Personally I, and many other feel, that there needs to be stronger and more explicit protection of free speech in the UK simply because there is too much room for interpretation of what is allowed by authority. It is however unlike we will ever see something so blanket as US law and I’m still on the fence about if that is a good or bad thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

> However, if speech is not intended to lead to immediate harm to other people or property, it’s hard to see why it should be illegal.

No, no, no, you don’t get it. They didn’t arrest him and put him in jail for harm to others. They arrested him to keep other people from killing him for his facebook post. He’ll be safe, behind bars!

Anonymous Coward says:

To show a different countrys reaction...

The German answer or one point of the discussion is if to keep the blaspheme paragraph or not. The opposition (minority in government/parliament) suggested to get rid of it but the ruling party(CDU) said they want to remove a part of it. The part that they want to remove says more or less (excuse my lack of translation skill): “If it threatens public peace”* . Meaning that talking sh** about any religon would get you 3 years in prison or a monetary fee. Saying the pope is an a*hole? Jail or pay imho**. Saying radical islamists are bad? Jail or pay imho.

It really seems the whole thing gets out of hand if you ask me. And people…well politicans…just act for the reason of doing something. No matter what that “something” is.

* law in question is the German “STGB §166” (google/search engine of your choice) if you want to look it up and/or translate it.

** in my humble opinion

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Free Speech? What's that?

It’s always been this way-even back in Voltaire’s time (and further), France used to jail people for saying/writing things that displeased the King, government and powers that be. It hasn’t changed.

It’s a concept whose time has not quite come. True free speech is not yet here. There’s been attempts at it, but nowhere on Earth will you find the true establishment of free speech or a free press.

To do so would be to unleash the power of the people, and the establishment would not be happy with that..really.

Anonymous Coward says:

We Get It France

But those slain were’nt even buried in the ground before this satire publication comes back with an in your face cover with that charactiture on it, and it does not seem the wisest thing to do no matter how chivalrous they may have thought it was. Not even that funny to begin with in my opinion if they were originally going for the funny.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re: We Get It France

What’s frustrating me at the moment is that there’s a huge argument going on in the EU about showing or not of the images. It’s becoming almost mandatory to republish or else be seen as “giving in to the terrorists” regardless of if you would normally want to publish those things or not.

I end up having to ask the question “Is there anything those cartoons could have been off that would have made it right to kill the people who drew them?” because the answer should be “no” which should (but often does not) make clear that the point isn’t about what was published but their right to have regardless.

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills that people banging on about free speech are losing their collective shit about others exorcising theirs.

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