Five people have been detained on suspicion of making death threats to a French teenager who posted videos critical of Islam, prosecutors say. Mila, 17, had to change schools last year after an Instagram video for her friends in which she criticised Islam was widely shared on social media.
She then posted another video on social media site TikTok last November which prompted a new wave of online threats, she was getting about 30 hate messages a minute at one point, her lawyer said. France’s online hate crimes task force took over the case. Mila, who is known in France only by her first name, is originally from the eastern Isère region, her story has revived debate in the country on freedom of speech as well as protection for schoolchildren from online bullying.
A schoolteacher was murdered last October close to his school near Paris, days after showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to a class discussing freedom of expression. Since her initial, crude comments were made on an Instagram live post in January 2020, Mila had received more than 50,000 hate messages, Le Figaro reported last month. Lawyer Richard Malka said Mila lived in hiding as if she was “in a bunker”, and she was getting about 30 hate messages a minute. Among her original remarks, she described Islam as a “religion of hate”. “She never made any racist comments, just used teenage words that were a bit vulgar,” the lawyer said.
Online child protection group E-Enfance said Mila’s contact details were revealed, and the teenager’s case had prompted more messages to be exchanged online than for an event like a Fifa World Cup. Two hashtags sprang up, one in support of the teenager and another in opposition: #JeSuisMila (I am Mila) and #JeNeSuisPasMila. Mila and her family were placed under police protection, and President Emmanuel Macron came to her defence insisting that under French law “we have the right to blaspheme”. Mila was then sent to a different school. While a number of people were prosecuted for threatening her last year, a 23-year-old was given a jail term last October. The following month, Mila posted another video which she soon took down and complained she had been getting threats alluding to the October murder of Samuel Paty.
Equalities Minister Marlène Schiappa said it was no longer a controversy but the persecution of a minor. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin tweeted on Tuesday that five people were in custody for making death threats, and he added that “in total, 13 individuals have been arrested as part of this case since February 2020”. Those detained are aged between 18 and 29 and from different areas of France.