13 on trial for cyberbullying French teen for 'hate speech'

13 on trial in Paris for cyberbullying teen who made anti-Islam remarks
3 min read
24 June, 2021
A landmark trial in France has brought to surface discussions over freedom of speech after 13 go on trial over abusive comments against an 18-year-old girl who made 'Islamophobic' remarks.
Mila was the target of death threats [Getty]

A French girl who received death threats after she called Islam a "s**t religion" when she was 16-years-old is attending a trial of over a dozen people who reportedly harassed her online.

The teenager, known as "Mila" first began posting videos on Instagram and TikTok criticising Islam and the Quran, including saying that Islam was "s**t" and the Quran is "filled with nothing but hate".

Her comments in 2020 were seen by some as hate speech against Muslims in a country already criticised for its harsh handling of its Muslim population.

The landmark trial, which concludes in the next week, brings to harsh light cyberbullying. It also contributes to France's ongoing debate about the freedom of expression, hate speech and an uptick in Islamophobia in the increasingly controversial secular country.

Thirteen people under the age of 30, coming from different religious and ethnic backgrounds from around France face potential time in prison for online harassment, online death threats and online rape threats.

The case has sparked debate about free speech in France [Getty]
The case has sparked debate about free speech in France [Getty]

It is the first case of its kind since France created a new court in January to prosecute online crimes.

Of those standing trial, one admitted wanting to become a police officer, while another said he wanted to make people laugh with their comments.

Some apologised for what they said, and others said they had posted without thinking.

At 18, as a self-prescribed atheist, Mila testified that “I don’t like any religion, not just Islam”.

Following death threats, Mila was placed under police protection and forced to change school.

President Emmanuel Macron defended Mila. “The law is clear. We have the right to blaspheme, to criticise and caricature religions,” he said.

Asked by French television 'Are You Mila?' (a throwback to the #JeSuisMila messages online) former president Francois Hollande replied: “No, I am Francois Hollande.

“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.”

For many, this incident represents a legal cyberbullying precedent. It is the first time individuals are held legally accountable for online harassment and abuse, and such a decision is being seen as a step in the right direction to combat online violence.

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Others see Mila's comments about Islam as a wider issue of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

Freedom of expression is considered a fundamental right in France, however critics argue it has often been abused to disparage the country's ethnic and religious minorities.

After Mila's initial video in January 2020, a legal complaint was filed against her for incitement to racial hatred. That investigation was dropped for lack of evidence.

Some French Muslims feel that their country, and President Emmanuel Macron’s government, unfairly stigmatise their religious practices.

Macron has defended France's strict brand of secularism and the re-publishing of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, sparking a backlash from Muslims around the world.

He has also been accused of persecuting Muslims in France, with authorities currently cracking down on Muslim NGOs under a new 'separatism' law that has been criticised as curtailing civil liberties.