Thirteen people went on trial today in Paris accused of cyberbullying or death threats against a teenage girl who posted online comments critical of Islam.
The case is the first such trial under new jurisdiction France created this year to prosecute crimes online, including harassment and discrimination. Defense lawyers sought more time for procedural reasons, and the judges agreed to delay the proceedings until June 21-22.
The defendants, who are between 18 and 35 years old and from all around France, face up to two years in prison and about $37,000 if convicted of online harassment. Some of the 13 are also accused of online death threats, an offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of three years and a fine up to $55,000.
The teenager who was targeted, who recently turned 18 and identifies herself online as Mila, posted videos last year on Instagram and TikTok savaging Islam and the Quran that were widely shared.
She received death threats and other online abuse as a result and was put under police protection and changed schools. The French government’s equality minister at the time called for tougher measures against cyberbullying, and President Emmanuel Macron defended Mila’s “right to blasphemy.”
Freedom of expression is considered a fundamental right in secular France, and blasphemy is not a crime. Some French Muslims feel their country unfairly stigmatizes their religious practices.
The trial focuses on responses to the teenager’s TikTok video in November. One of the defendants threatened to turn her into another Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded outside Paris in October after showing his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
After Mila’s initial video in January 2020, a legal complaint was filed against her for incitement to racial hatred. The investigation was dropped for lack of evidence.