PARIS - French comedian Dieudonne told a court Wednesday he condemned last month's Paris attacks "without any ambiguity" as he stood trial on charges of condoning terrorism over a comment suggesting he sympathised with one of the gunmen.
The polemicist was arrested on January 14 after writing "I feel like Charlie Coulibaly" on Facebook, a mix of the slogan "Je suis Charlie" that became a global rallying cry against extremism and the name of one of the assailants who killed a policewoman and four Jews.
His arrest was one of dozens of cases opened for "condoning terrorism" or "making threats to carry out terrorist acts" after the attackers killed 17 people in the January 7-9 shooting spree that also targeted satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, sparking concerns over freedom of expression.
"Of course I condemn the attacks without any restraint and without any ambiguity," Dieudonne told the court in Paris.
The comedian is a controversial figure who has often made headlines, most notably with his trademark "quenelle" hand gesture that looks like an inverted Nazi salute, but which he insists is merely anti-establishment.
Branded a "pedlar of hate" by the government, Dieudonne has also attracted anger over sketches widely viewed as anti-Semitic that have occasionally prompted local authorities to ban his shows.
But his arrest - and that of other people, some of whom were sent straight to jail for one to four years - raised questions about free speech in France.
In one case, a 34-year-old man who hit a car while drunk, injured the driver, and subsequently praised the acts of the gunmen when police detained him, was sentenced to four years in prison.
And a 22-year-old in the Paris suburb of Nanterre was sentenced to a year in jail for posting a video mocking one of the policemen shot dead.
Dieudonne told the court he had wanted to take part in a mammoth march against extremism in Paris on January 11, but decided against it as he felt unwelcome, instead attending a smaller demonstration near his home in northern France.
"I feel treated like a terrorist," he said.
But prosecutor Annabelle Philippe said Dieudonne had presented "in a favourable light the acts committed by Amedy Coulibaly." "He knows exactly how to play with words, it's his job," she said.
"He weighs up every word, he knows that he will be borderline." Under a law adopted in France late last year to fight the threat of jihadism, actions condoning or inciting terrorism are subject to much harsher sanctions than before.
Prosecutors have called for Dieudonne to be fined 30,000 euros (S$46,200), which if he fails to pay up could turn into a prison sentence.