France's interior minister hails court's ban on 'racist' comic Dieudonne
Top court overturns at last minute a local judge's ruling that controversial Dieudonne could perform, putting his French tour in doubt
France's Socialist government has claimed a last-gasp victory in its battle to prevent a controversial stand-up comic from launching a nationwide tour with a show condemned as anti-Semitic.
Less than two hours before the comic, Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, was due to take the stage on Thursday in the western city of Nantes, France's highest administrative court, the Council of State, overturned a local judge's ruling that the show should be allowed to go ahead.
The decision was greeted with boos by hundreds of fans who gathered outside the theatre in anticipation of watching a performer the government has branded a "peddler of hate" and who has been repeatedly convicted under anti-racism legislation.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who has led the campaign to deny the comedian - who goes by his first name Dieudonne - a platform in France, hailed the ruling as a victory for the country's fundamental values.
"We cannot tolerate hatred of others, racism, anti-Semitism or holocaust denial," Valls said. "That is not France and the highest (administrative) court in the land has said as much … This is a victory for the Republic."
That view was echoed by Dr Moshe Kantor, head of the European Jewish Congress, who hailed the ruling as "a triumph for the values of democracy".
Lawyers for the government argued that the racist nature of the comedian's act meant it could not be afforded protection under France's constitutional provisions on freedom of speech.
But their arguments were rejected by Nantes judge Jean-Francois Molla in a ruling earlier in the day that would have made it very difficult for other cities to ban Dieudonne, 47, from performing in their theatres.
Molla said that a perceived risk to public order could not be used to "justify as radical a measure as banning the show". But judge Bernard Stirn, of the Council of State, said in his decision that "the risk of trouble to public order was established".
The Council of State's decision to uphold the ban in Nantes leaves the rest of a tour in doubt.
The decision marks a landmark break with legal precedent in France, where previous bids to ban Dieudonne from performing foundered against constitutional provisions on free speech.
Dieudonne's lawyer, Jacques Verdier, said a ban on Dieudonne's performances was ridiculous given that a film of his latest show,
The Wall, had already been posted online. "You are seeking to ban a show that is already in the public domain," Verdier told the court in Nantes.