French youths jailed for harassing teenage girl who criticised Islam
The sentence aims to set standards on what is acceptable and what is not on social media
ParisOn Wednesday, the French judge sentenced eleven people to sentences of between four and six months in prison (which they will not serve) for having cyberstalked a teenager who had criticised Islam with rude words through Instagram. The sentence, which according to the same judge should "set the rules of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable" on social media, can create jurisprudence. "In the street, when we come across someone we dislike because of their physical appearance or their statements, even if they are offensive, we refrain from insulting them, threatening them or laughing. What you don't do in the street, don't do on social media", said judge Michaël Humbert.
Of the eleven convicted, aged between 18 and 29, ten were convicted for participating in "a real enterprise of harassment" against Mila Orriols, an 18-year-old girl (she was 16 at the time of the incident, in early 2020) who, after sending Islam to hell - among other comments - was the target of a multitude of insults and threats. On the other hand, the eleventh convict, who sent her a message to her personal email saying he would be "very happy" to cut her body with his "most beautiful knife", was convicted of death threats. Two of the thirteen young people who were accused at the beginning have been acquitted: one due to lack of evidence and the other for a defect of form in the judicial procedure. The sentence includes, broadly speaking, what the prosecution had asked for: "A warning, between three and six months in prison, to raise public awareness".
"We won and we will win again"
Since receiving the threats, and especially after the murder of Professor Samuel Paty for having shown caricatures of Mohammed from Charlie Hebdo in class, Mila has had to be escorted all day - also at the trial - she has had to change schools twice and it is not known where she lives for safety. Still, she's not hiding. "We won and we will win again", she said, satisfied, after Wednesday's hearing. In fact, she has a book out, entitled I am the price of your freedom and some left-wing politicians have accused her of taking advantage of the case to become a media figure. They have also pointed to her as a victim of the politicisation of the case by some leaders. In turn, the victim's lawyer, Richard Malka, who also worked for the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in the trial of the attack they suffered in 2015, has said that the sentence has been "fair": "What was important for us was that it was recorded in the criminal record", he said.
In contrast, defense lawyers have argued that their clients were not aware of the impact of their messages or that Mila was the victim of massive harassment. Even so, the magistrate recalled that social media platforms are a public space in which, precisely, it is intended that the comments reach as many people as possible. And, before the end of the hearing, the judge let the last lesson go: "The decision [of the court] does not necessarily have to be correct and can be criticized, but each of us, during the trial, has kept our impulses at bay. And perhaps this is what we should strive to cultivate on social media".