On June 7, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, a French court convicted 11 out of 13 accused of cyberbullying a teenager over her views against Islam on social media. The 18-year-old started receiving threatening messages after her video criticizing Islam and the Quran posted last year from her social media accounts went viral.
At 16, French lesbian teenager Mila went on an anti-religion rant during a livestream in response to a Muslim incel's homophobic insults after she rejected him. She received relentless harassment ever since and now finally got justice (the court convicted 11 people in the case) https://t.co/gllcf92rgD
— (@introvaganza) July 8, 2021
Mila (her current alias) is an atheist. She started posting videos with her views and critique on Islam when she was 16. Later she became a public figure in France as a symbol of free speech by her supporters and "deliberately provocative and Islamophobic" by her critics.
Since her video went viral, Mila has received over 10 thousand threatening messages, including death threats, rape threats, misogynistic comments, and even hate comments on her sexual orientation. She was forced to change schools multiple times and receive police protection due to the severity of the harassment she had to face. She posted a video in January 2020 containing comments that would be highly offensive to practicing Muslims in response to a boy who abused her "in the name of Allah.”
After going to court, judge Michel Humbert sentenced 11 of the 13 accused to suspended prison terms of four to six months and fined them about $1,770 each. One of the two people that were not convicted was acquitted because his post "Blow it up" was directed at Mila's Twitter account and not Mila herself, and the other was dropped for faulty procedures.
These were only a handful of all the people who went after Mila, and the others couldn't be tracked down. "Social networks are the street. When you pass someone in the street, you don't insult them, threaten them, make fun of them," the judge said in the trial, "What you don't do in the street, don't do on social media."
"I was expecting worse and, honestly, we won and will win again because what I want is that, united, we will never give up. We will continue to fight," Mila said. She added, "What I want is that those (who harass) be considered a plague and ought to be forbidden access to social networks(,) … those who cyberbully, who threaten with death, who deprive one of their freedom and who incite one to suicide. And I never want the victims to be blamed again."
Juan Branco, the lawyer for one of the defendants, said, "Symbolic trials in which one tries to use one person to send a message to the rest of society are very dangerous." He said that his client "is not a fanatic, is someone who respects beliefs, (but) who doesn't like this climate where one part of the French population is systematically under attack."
France's strict hate speech laws criminalize inciting hatred against a group based on their religion or race, but they do not prevent people from criticizing or insulting religious beliefs.
The trial caught widespread attention for being the first ruling on a cyberbullying case in the new French court created in January to prosecute online crimes, including harassment and discrimination. From cyberbullying and hate speech to the country's free speech laws and attitudes to religious minorities, Mila's case was a significant point in the history of French legislation.