Europe

France Mila affair: Thirteen on trial over online abuse

A French teenager has attended the first day of a trial against 13 people accused of sending abusive messages after she posted videos criticising Islam.

Mila was 16 when her first Instagram clip went viral.

She has since received 100,000 hate messages, her lawyer says, and lives under 24-hour police protection.

Ten men and three women aged between 18 and 30 are standing trial. Eight are accused of making death threats.

Mila, who has now turned 18, is identified only by her first name in France.

Her story has revived debate about freedom of speech, as well as protection for schoolchildren from online bullying.

A schoolteacher was murdered last October close to his school near Paris, days after showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to a class discussing freedom of expression.

Ahead of the trial the teenager posted a message asking for support: “Together let’s refuse to live in fear.”

Speaking at the court on Thursday, her lawyer Richard Malka said Mila’s life had been “stolen”, even though she had not “broken any law” in criticising Islam, according to French channel BMFTV.

“I can’t get over the fact that she lives as a recluse. Imagine her life, she can no longer walk peacefully, she can no longer do internships, all doors are closed to her,” he added.

Mr Malka had previously told France Info radio that all of the defendants had clean criminal records: “What is chilling and frightening about this case is that they are not delinquents or fanatics.”

He said many had expressed surprise that they could be prosecuted “for a single tweet”, even if they had used a fake name online or a VPN (virtual private network) to mask their internet address.

In October, a 23-year-old was sentenced to three years over online death threats against Mila.

The teenager was forced to change schools after her initial video was shared online. According to French newspaper La Dépêche, Mila was then withdrawn from the military school she moved to in November, over concerns for her safety after she posted a second clip criticising Islam on TikTok. She has since been learning online.

After Mila’s original remarks, in which she described Islam as a “religion of hate”, two opposing hashtags sprang up: #JeSuisMila (I am Mila) and #JeNeSuisPasMila.

President Emmanuel Macron spoke out in support of the teenager, arguing that in France “we have the right to blaspheme”.

Later this month Mila is due to publish a book about her experiences, entitled “I Am the Price of Your Freedom”.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57342528