The mass trial of 13 people over death threats sent to a teenage girl after she called Islam a ‘s**t religion’ in a viral video started in Paris on Thursday.
The teenage girl, identified only as Mila, was placed under police protection with her family and forced to change school following the threats.
The case sparked outrage and renewed calls to uphold free-speech rights after the 16-year-old was subjected to a torrent of abuse on social media after her expletive-laden videos went viral last year.
‘The Koran is filled with nothing but hate, Islam is a s***y religion,’ Mila said in the first post on Instagram in January 2020.
The mass trial of 13 people over death threats sent to a teenage girl, identified as Mila (pictured arriving at court) after she called Islam a ‘s**t religion’ in a video started in Paris on Thursday
The teenage girl, identified only as Mila (pictured) was placed under police protection with her family after she received death threats for calling Islam a ‘s**t’ religion in a viral video
A second one in November, this time on TikTok, came after the jihadist killing of high school teacher Samuel Paty over his showing of controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohamed to students.
The reactions 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 had to be placed under police protection along with her family in Villefontaine, a town outside Lyon in southeast France, and was forced to change schools.
Mila had also appeared on a French TV programme following her viral video to say she ‘does not regret’ her comments.
In the show Quotidien aired in February 2020, Mila defended her right to her strong atheist convictions during the interview.
She told host Yann Barhes: ‘I absolutely do not regret what I said, that it was really what I thought…
‘I would still like to say that in some way I am a little bit sorry towards the people who I might have hurt who practise their religion in peace, and I never wanted to target human beings.
‘I simply wanted to… blaspheme… I wanted to talk about a religion, and say what I thought about it, and that’s all.’
In February 2020, Mila appeared on a French TV programme to say she ‘does not regret’ her comments. She defended her right to her strong atheist convictions during the interview
Even President Emmanuel Macron came to her defence, saying that ‘the law is clear. We have the right to blaspheme, to criticise and to caricature religions.’
In February, investigators identified thirteen people from several French regions aged 18 to 30, and charged them with online harassment. Some are also accused of threatening death or other criminal acts.
‘This is a trial against the digital terror that unleashes sexist, homophobic and intolerant mobs against a teenager,’ Mila’s lawyer Richard Malka told AFP ahead of the trial, which opens Thursday afternoon.
‘This digital lynching must be punished,’ he said.
The teenager’s lawyer, Richard Malka (pictured speaking to journalists ahead of the court hearing on Thursday) said ‘this digital lynching must be punished’
France’s defence of its secular values and a crackdown on religious extremism have stirred fierce protests by many Muslims worldwide, who accuse the country of encouraging insults against their beliefs.
But defence lawyers have argued that the 13 on trial are unfairly taking the rap as scapegoats for thousands of people taking advantage of the anonymity offered by social media platforms.
‘My client is totally overwhelmed by this affair,’ said Gerard Chemla, a lawyer for one of the accused. ‘He had a fairly stupid instant reaction, the type that happens every day on Twitter.’
Defence lawyers (pictured, Juan Branco, lawyer of one of the defendants, arriving at court) have argued that the 13 on trial are unfairly taking the rap as scapegoats for thousands of people taking advantage of the anonymity offered by social media platforms
The accused face up to two years in prison and fines of 30,000 euros ($36,600) 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, now 18, is to publish a book this month recounting her experience, titled ‘I’m paying the price for your freedom.’