France's highest administrative court has ruled to reinstate a ban on controversial comic Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, just hours after a court in the western city of Nantes overturned an official prohibition on his comedy act.
A judge overturned the ban on Dieudonné’s performances earlier in the day, paving the way for him to open a nationwide tour with a stand-up routine Thursday evening at Nantes' Zenith Theatre.
The final decision was greeted with boos and jeers by hundreds of the comedian's fans outside the venue.
More than 5,000 tickets had been sold for the performance.
Dieudonné, whose act has been widely condemned as being anti-Semitic, was banned in Nantes as well as Marseille, Bordeaux and Tours on the grounds of maintaining public order as authorities probe whether he could face charges for breaking French laws against "inciting racial hatred."
French President François Hollande had also backed the ban on his performances.
“No one should be able to use this show for provocation and to promote openly anti-Semitic ideas,” Hollande told a meeting of senior government officials in Paris on Tuesday.
Lawyers for Dieudonné, 47, who has been fined repeatedly for hate speech, have said they would take legal action to defend him, accusing his detractors of defamation and invasion of privacy.
“Freedom of expression is not at the whim of governments or a comedian,” they said in a statement.
But the municipal bans have given rise to misgivings among some opponents of the comic, who fear that banning him will only fuel his popularity and provide him with more opportunities to cash in on his notoriety.
Dieudonné, whose father is from Cameroon and whose mother is French Caucasian, is also due to perform 10 nights in the small Swiss town of Nyon. The city of Geneva tried to ban him several years ago but a judge also overturned that decision.
The ‘quenelle’ salute
Dieudonné supporters say the public order argument against him is false because he performs inside theaters rather than in the streets.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls moved to ban his shows after Jewish groups complained about his trademark "quenelle," a straight-armed downward gesture that they have likened to a Nazi salute in reverse.
West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka is being investigated by the English Football Association for using the quenelle during a December 28th football match in Britain to celebrate a goal.
And NBA basketball star Tony Parker, a Frenchman, has apologized for a 3-year-old photo of him making the salute.
Dieudonné's defenders say the gesture is merely anti-establishment and does not carry overtly racist overtones.
The gesture took on sinister connotations, however, with the publication of pictures of Dieudonné fans performing quenelles outside synagogues, at a Holocaust museum and in front of the school in Toulouse, where a gunman inspired by al Qaeda killed a rabbi and three Jewish children as part of a 2012 shooting spree.