France: Court Suspends 11 People For Harassing Teen Who Called Islam a 'S****y' Religion'

Published July 7th, 2021 - 11:46 GMT
A French teen sparked a national row over #freespeech
A French teen sparked a national row over #freespeech (Twitter)
She writes: 'If I get attacked then I am going to defend myself.' 

A French court handed down suspended prison sentences of between four to six months to 11 people on Wednesday who were found guilty of harassing a teen online over her anti-Islam videos on social media. 

Prosecutors put 13 people on trial after the teen, known only as Mila, was forced to change schools and accept police protection due to threats to her life.  

Mila, now 18, sparked outrage with her provocative comments about the religion made at age 16 which led to death threats and Emmanuel Macron speaking out in her defence.

She recently wrote a book defending freedom of speech after the ordeal, which arose after she posted a video online saying: 'The Koran is filled with nothing but hate, Islam is a s****y religion.'

The court in Paris tried 13 people from several French regions aged 18 to 30 who were charged with harassing Mila, with some of them sending her death threats.

One of them told her she deserved 'to have your throat cut.'

In its judgement on Wednesday, one of the defendants was acquitted for lack of proof, while another was released due to a procedural problem.

The remaining 11 were handed suspended sentences, meaning they will not serve time in jail unless they are convicted for other offences.

Mila, who has since refused to back down over her remarks, says she has received more than 100,000 hateful messages and her new book, titled I Am the Price of Your Freedom, continues her provocative message.

She writes: 'If I get attacked then I am going to defend myself.' 

'We no longer have the right to mock, criticise or insult religions, even when they are intolerant, sexist or homophobic.' 

The furore erupted in January 2020, when Mila, then 16, who describes herself as pansexual, meaning she is attracted to people of all genders, was asked if she had a preference for white, Arabic or black people

'I answered simply that Arabic and Black people are not particularly my type and that they do not attract me physically,' she said.

 A boy who had shown interest in her then insulted her 'in the name of Allah'.

After receiving threats she launched into an anti-Islam tirade, declaring: 'Islam is s*** (...) Your religion is s***. I put my finger into the a****** of your God. Thank you and goodbye.'

Her outburst triggered a flood of insults, with one person writing: 'You deserve to have your throat cut.'

She said she was forced to leave school and no other establishment wanted her for security reasons, saying her life became 'hell'.

To go unnoticed during rare trips outside, she wore a disguise that made her feel like 'Inspector Gadget', she said in a recent French television interview.

'Even when I go outside, I am in prison,' she said, declaring she just 'wants to live free'.    

Her story goes to the core of the debate over freedom of expression which has raged in secular France since 2015 when Islamist gunmen attacked the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

The controversy intensified further when teacher Samuel Paty - who had shown the caricatures in his civics class - was beheaded by an Islamist radical outside his school in Paris in October 2020.

Mila has been feted by some as a hero of the fight for freedom of expression in France although critics accuse her of needlessly provoking observant Muslims. 

On a language study trip to Malta last summer she was threatened with death and rape by a fellow student, who recognised her. He was arrested and convicted on the island.

But in November Mila published a new video, reaffirming her previous tirade.

The 13 being tried in Paris for subjecting her to online harassment, including death threats, are all aged between 18-30. Most have never had any brushes with the law before.

'She received over 100,000 hate messages and death threats saying she would be tied up, cut up, quartered, stoned, beheaded, accompanied by coffin images, and photo-montages of her bloodied decapitated head,' her lawyer Richard Malka who also represents Charlie Hebdo, told the court.

When the controversy erupted, the hashtag #JeSuisMila (I am Mila) went viral in solidarity with her, echoing the #JeSuisCharlie slogan around which millions of people rallied following the 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists.

President Emmanuel Macron was among those who defended Mila, saying: 'The law is clear. We have the right to blaspheme, to criticise and caricature religions'.

Not all echoed such sentiments, however, especially on the left. Asked by French television 'Are You Mila?' Socialist ex-president Francois Hollande replied testily: 'No, I am Francois Hollande'.

He added: 'We have the right to criticise religions. Mila had every right to criticise religion. But, like everyone else, she should not engage in hate speech about those who practice their religion.'

Mila says she finds France now a 'fragile and cowardly nation' claiming that the 'silent majority' who support her 'do not do anything'.

'Even if I have a knife placed under my neck, I won't stop speaking out,' she told the TF1 channel. 'But I am still a young woman who does not know what to think about her future.'

France's defence of its secular values and a crackdown on religious extremism have stirred fierce protests by many Muslims worldwide, who accuse the country of encouraging insults against their beliefs.

But defence lawyers have argued that the 13 on trial are unfairly taking the rap as scapegoats for thousands of people taking advantage of the anonymity offered by social media platforms.

'My client is totally overwhelmed by this affair,' said Gerard Chemla, a lawyer for one of the accused. 'He had a fairly stupid instant reaction, the type that happens every day on Twitter.'

The accused face up to two years in prison and fines of 30,000 euros ($36,600) for online harassment.

A conviction of death threats carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison - two people previously convicted of death threats against Mila have received prison terms.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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