Thirteen people have gone on trial in France charged with online harassment, including death threats, against a teenage girl who was placed under police protection after posting anti-Islam rants on social media.
The girl, named only as Mila, was forced to change schools over her expletive-laden videos, and the episode fuelled a debate about the right to offend people’s religious beliefs.
“The Qur’an is filled with nothing but hate, Islam is a shitty religion,” the teen said in the first post on Instagram in January 2020. She was 16 at the time.
She posted a second video in November, this time on TikTok, after the jihadist killing of the secondary school teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown students controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
The reactions to the video lambasting “your mate Allah” were swift and virulent.
“You deserve to have your throat cut,” read one, while another warned; “I’m going to do you like Samuel Paty.”
Mila was placed under police protection along with her family in Villefontaine, a town outside Lyon in south-east France.
Even Emmanuel Macron came to her defence, saying that “the law is clear. We have the right to blaspheme, to criticise and to caricature religions.”
Blasphemy 'is no crime', says Macron amid French girl's anti-Islam rowRead more
Investigators eventually identified 13 people aged 18 to 30 from several French regions and charged them with online harassment, with some also accused of threatening death or other criminal acts.
Mila, her white-blond hair shaved on the sides, made no statement as she entered the courtroom on Thursday under a flurry of press camera flashes.
Her lawyer, Richard Malka, told the court that she had “received more than 100,000 hateful messages and death threats promising to have her trussed up, cut up, quartered, beheaded, with images of coffins or doctored pictures of her decapitation”.
He said: “I cannot believe that these 13 people who have all been through our education system do not know that criticising religions is legal and has nothing to do with racism.”
France’s staunch defence of the right to mock religion and its crackdown on religious extremists have sparked protests in several Muslim countries, where the French have been accused of stigmatising Islam.
Defence lawyers argue that the 13 people on trial are unfairly taking the rap for thousands of people taking advantage of the anonymity offered by social media platforms to settle scores online.
“My client is totally overwhelmed by this affair,” Gérard Chemla, a lawyer for one of the accused, said ahead of the trial.
“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 (£26,000) 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.
Mila, whose criticism of Islam has endeared her to the right as well as champions of free speech, is to publish a book this month recounting her experience, titled I’m Paying the Price for Your Freedom.