Thirteen on trial for threats against French teenager who criticized Islam on social media

Thirteen people were on trial in France on Thursday for online harassment, including death threats, against a teenage girl placed under police protection after posting anti-Islam tirades on social media.

The treatment of Mila, who was forced to change schools because of her expletive-laden videos, caused a stir and fueled a debate about the right to offend people’s religious beliefs.

“The Quran is full of nothing but hate, Islam is a shitty religion,” the teen said in the first Instagram post in January 2020. She was 16 at the time.

She posted a second video, this time on TikTok, in November following the jihadist murder of high school teacher Samuel Paty, who showed students controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohamed.

The reactions to the video denouncing “your mate Allah” were quick and fierce.

“You deserve to have your throat slit,” one read, while another warned, “I’m going to do you like Samuel Paty.”

Mila and her family were placed under police protection in Villefontaine, a town outside Lyon in southeastern France.

Even President Emmanuel Macron came to her defense and said that “the law is clear. We have the right to slander, criticize and caricature religions.”

Researchers eventually identified 13 people from different regions of France, ages 18 to 30, and charged them with online harassment, with some also accused of threatening death or other criminal acts.

Mila, her white-blonde hair shaved to the sides, made no statement as she entered the courtroom on Thursday under a flurry of press camera flashes.

Her attorney Richard Malka told the court she received “more than 100,000 hateful messages and death threats promising to have her tied up, cut into pieces, quartered, beheaded, with images of coffins or edited photos of her beheading.”

“I can’t believe these 13 people, who have all been through our education system, don’t know that criticizing religions is legal and has nothing to do with racism,” he said.

‘Dumb direct response’

France’s fervent defense of the right to mock religion and crackdowns on religious extremists have sparked protests in several Muslim countries, where the French have been accused of stigmatizing Islam.

Defense attorneys argue that the 13 on trial are unfairly blaming thousands of people who take advantage of the anonymity afforded by social media platforms to settle scores online.

“My client is completely overwhelmed by this affair,” Gerard Chemla, lawyer for one of the suspects, said before the trial.

“He had a pretty stupid direct response, the type that happens every day on Twitter.”

The accused faces up to two years in prison and fines of 30,000 euros ($36,600) for online harassment.

A death threat conviction 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 both the right and freedom of expression advocates, will publish a book this month detailing her experience, titled “I Will Pay the Price for Your Freedom.”

(AFP)

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