French court convicts 11 for harassing teen over anti-Islam videos

Court-sketch done on June 3, 2021 in Paris shows 18-year-old Mila (red top) and defendants (coloured tops) during the opening hearing of the trial in the so-called "Mila" case.
Court-sketch done on June 3, 2021 in Paris shows 18-year-old Mila (red top) and defendants (coloured tops) during the opening hearing of the trial in the so-called "Mila" case. AFP - BENOIT PEYRUCQ

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


The prosecutions came after the teen, known as Mila, was forced to change schools and accept police protection after threats to her life.

Since her first videos in 2020, the previously unknown schoolgirl has become a divisive public figure, seen by supporters as a symbol of free speech and the right to blasphemy, and by critics as deliberately provocative and Islamophobic

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.

'It feels like the sky is falling on our heads'

The Mila case shot into the public spotlight amid a debate in France over freedom of expression and blasphemy, especially when it touches Islam. It is also viewed as test case on the issue of cyber harassment amid rising hate speech and vitriolic attacks on social media platforms.

The controversy erupted last year, when the teen started sharing personal details about her life, including her attraction to women, in a livestream on Instagram.

Online insults and death threats soon followed, including some posts saying she was an affront to Islam.

Mila then responded with video of her declaring, “I hate religion,” and “the Koran is a religion of hatred.” She also used profanity to describe Islam and crude imagery in referring to God.

Earlier this week, Mila, now 18, testified in court that she "does not like any religion, not just Islam.”

Her lawyer Richard Malka said Mila has received some 100,000 threatening messages, including death threats, rape threats, misogynist messages and hateful messages about her homosexuality.

Mila had to quit her secondary school, then another. She is now monitored daily by the police for her safety.

“It’s been a cataclysm, it feels like the sky is falling on our heads [...] a confrontation with pure hatred,” her mother told the court.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, former Socialist president François Hollande said her original remarks amounted to "hate speech" against Muslims.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

The ruling on the Mila case came a day after another French court ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all of its documents relating to its efforts to fight racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

Six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of "long-term and persistent" failures in blocking hateful comments from the site. 

The Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company's efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter's global operations, not just France.

Twitter must hand over "all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents" detailing the resources it has assigned to fight homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as the offence of "condoning crimes against humanity".

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

Twitter said it was studying the court order.

"Our absolute priority is to assure the security of people using our platform," the company told AFP, adding: "We commit to building a safer internet, to combatting online hate and to improving the serenity of public discourse."

Twitter's hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination. 

Like other social media giants, it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content. 

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.  

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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