PARIS (AP) — A French court on Wednesday convicted 11 of 13 people charged with harassing and threatening a teenager who harshly criticized Islam in online posts and ended up changing schools and receiving police protection to preserve her safety.
The verdict came in a trial in Paris that was the first of its kind since France created a new court in January to prosecute online crimes, including harassment and discrimination.
The court sentenced the defendants to suspended prison terms of four to six months and fined them about $1,770 each.
“Social networks are the street. When you pass someone in the street, you don’t insult them, threaten them, make fun of them,” the presiding judge, Michel Humbert, said. “What you don’t do in the street, don’t do on social media.”
The teen at the center of the landmark cyberbullying case, who has been identified publicly only by her first name, Mila, testified last month that she felt as if she had been “condemned to death.”
Mila, who describes herself as atheist, was 16 when she started posting videos on Instagram and later TikTok harshly criticizing Islam and the Quran. Now 18, she testified that “I don’t like any religion, not just Islam.”
Her lawyer, Richard Malka, said Mila has received some 100,000 threatening messages, including death threats, rape threats, misogynist messages and hateful messages about her sexual orientation.
Mila left one high school, then another. She is now monitored daily by the police for her safety.
The 13 defendants from around France came from various backgrounds and religions and were but a handful of all the people who went after Mila with online comments. The others could not be tracked down.
One of the 13 was acquitted because his post – “Blow it up” – was directed at Mila’s Twitter account, not at the young woman. The court dropped the case against another defendant for faulty procedures.
Nicolas Vaux-Montagny reported from Lyon.