Eleven convicted for harassing French teenager Mila over anti-Islam videos

·3-min read

A court in Paris on Wednesday convicted 11 people for harassing a teenager online over her anti-Islam videos.

The girl, known as Mila, was forced to change schools and accept 24-hour police protection following threats to her life in more than 100,000 abusive messages.

Eleven of the 13 people who went on trial were handed suspended sentences.

"Social networks are like the street," magistrate Michael Humbert said as he handed down his sentences.

"When you cross someone in the street, you don't insult, mock or threaten them.

"What you don't do in the street, you don't do on social media," he added.

Threats

The court was told that one of the accused wrote that Mila deserved to have her throat cut. Some threatened sexual assault.

Others said they simply did not think before messaging what they assumed would be anonymous insults.

A 21-year-old language student identified as Lauren G said she was tired of seeing Mila's name all the time in her news feed.

Another, 19-year-old Axel G, said he reacted in anger because he considered Mila's remarks about Islam to be racist and blasphemous.

The case led to a debate about free speech and the right to insult religions.

Since her comments against Islam in 2020, Mila has emerged as a divisive figure in France. Supporters say she is a courageous fighter for free speech. Critics claim she is deliberately provocative and Islamophobic.

"We won and we will win again," said the 18-year-old outside the court. on Wednesday. "I want us to never again make the victims feel guilty."

Issues

The court hearings received widespread coverage attention due to their explosive amalgam: cyberharassment; the right to blaspheme and attitudes to religious minorities.

In a first video posted on Instagram in January 2020, Mila, then aged 16 and openly lesbian, responded to personal abuse from a boy who she says insulted her about her sexuality "in the name of Allah".

She launched into an expletive-laden rant about Islam along with other explicit comments about Allah. She published a second one in November 2020.

France's hate speech laws make it a criminal offence to incite hatred against a group based on their religion or race, but they do not prevent people from criticising or insulting religious beliefs.

During the ensuing political and media furore, President Emmanuel Macron said that the law was clear. "We have the right to blaspheme, to criticise and to caricature religions," he added.

Attacks

The arguments reignited the debate in France about caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed which have been repeatedly printed by the magazine Charlie Hebdo in the name of freedom of expression. The cartoons are deemed offensive by many Muslims.

Charlie Hebdo was attacked by Islamist gunmen in 2014, leaving 12 staff members dead and 11 injured.

Last October, schoolteacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in the street after showing the cartoons to pupils during a class about free speech.

Milla, from the Isère region in south-eastern France, recently brought out a book entitled "I am the Price of Your Freedom".

"We no longer have the right to mock, criticise or insult religions, even when they are intolerant, sexist or homophobic," she wrote in one passage.

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