French police question 8-year-old over terror comment
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Reports that French police questioned an 8-year-old after he allegedly made comments in school in praise of terrorists have highlighted fears that the authorities may be going too far in their crackdown on hate speech.
Police in the southern city of Nice said they questioned the child and his father on Wednesday following a report by the school’s headmaster.
The child raised concern when he refused to take part in a minute's silence for the victims of a January 7 attack in which Islamist gunmen shot dead 12 people at the Paris offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, according to Marcel Authier, in charge of the region's public security.
The boy's teacher said the child also expressed "solidarity" with the gunmen, who claimed their gruesome attacks were justified by Charlie Hebdo's cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, Islam's holiest figure.
"In the current context, the school principal decided to report to police what had happened," said Authier, who stressed no complaint had been filed against the boy.
"We summoned the child and his father to try to understand how an eight-year-old boy could hold such radical ideas," he added. "Obviously, the child doesn't understand what he's saying."
The boy's lawyer Sefen Guez Guez was not immediately available for comment but on his Twitter feed he wrote that the child admitted having said the words: "I am with the terrorists."
According to the tweet, when police asked the child what the word "terrorism" meant, he replied: "I don't know."
Soon after, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a leading anti-racism watchdog, released a statement denouncing “the collective hysteria that has engulfed France since early January”.
Repression vs freedom of expression
The Charlie Hebdo murders kicked off three days of Islamist attacks in Paris that left 17 people dead and roiled the country, raising uncomfortable questions about homegrown jihadism and the failure to integrate some of the country's most vulnerable populations.
While hundreds of thousands of people marched through French cities in protest against terrorism and in defence of free speech, isolated cases of praise for the attackers, particularly on social media, prompted government members to call for swift and exemplary punishment.
In the two weeks that followed the gruesome attacks, French prosecutors launched 117 legal proceedings for “incitement to racial hatred” and “glorification of terrorism”. A third have already led to tough sentences, including 12 jail terms.
As the government mulls new legislation aimed at tackling homegrown jihadism, rights groups and members of the judiciary have warned against attempts to curb basic liberties.
On January 16, Amnesty International released a statement warning of “the risk that these arrests violate freedom of expression”. Four days later, the Syndicat de la magistrature, a leading magistrates’ trade union, urged prosecutors to “resist the wave of emotion” and the calls for “immediate repression”.
But polls suggest a vast majority of the French are in favour of stiffer penalties for Islamic extremists. According to an Ipsos survey published by Le Monde on Wednesday, 89% back restrictions on free speech on the Internet when it comes to jihadist propaganda, and 90% want jihadists who travel to Syria to be stripped of their French nationality.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)