Thirteen in court over death threats to French teenager after her social media tirades against Islam

Thirteen people go on trial in Paris on Thursday on charges of online harassment and in some cases death threats against a teenage girl who posted social media tirades against Islam, which saw her placed under police protection and forced to change schools.

Thirteen in court over death threats to French teenager after her social media tirades against Islam
Mila's lawyer Richard Malka has been involved in several high-profile freedom of expression trials, including the Charlie Hebdo trials. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

The  ‘Affaire Mila’ sparked outrage and renewed calls to uphold free-speech rights after the 16-year-old was subjected to a torrent of abuse on social media after her expletive-laden videos went viral last year.

“The Koran is filled with nothing but hate, Islam is a shitty religion,” Mila said in the first post on Instagram in January 2020.

READ ALSO What is the Affaire Mila and why is it causing outrage?

A second one in November, this time on TikTok, came after the jihadist killing of high school teacher Samuel Paty over his showing of controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohamed to students.

The reactions were swift and virulent.

“You deserve to have your throat cut,” read one, while another warned “I’m going to do you like Samuel Paty”.

Mila had to be placed under police protection along with her family in Villefontaine, a town outside Lyon in southeast France, and was forced to change schools.

Even President Emmanuel Macron came to her defence, saying that “the law is clear. We have the right to blaspheme, to criticise and to caricature religions.”

Investigators eventually identified thirteen people from several French regions aged 18 to 30, and charged them with online harassment, with some also accused of threatening death or other criminal acts.

“This is a trial against the digital terror that unleashes sexist, homophobic and intolerant mobs against a teenager,” Mila’s lawyer Richard Malka told AFP ahead of the trial, which opens on Thursday afternoon.

“This digital lynching must be punished,” he said.

But defence lawyers have argued that the 13 on trial are unfairly taking the rap as scapegoats for thousands of people taking advantage of the anonymity offered by social media platforms.

“My client is totally overwhelmed by this affair,” said Gerard Chemla, a lawyer for one of the accused. “He had a fairly stupid instant reaction, the type that happens every day on Twitter.”

The accused face up to two years in prison and fines of €30,000 for online harassment.

A conviction of death threats carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison – two people previously convicted of death threats against Mila have received prison terms.

Mila, now 18, is to publish a book this month recounting her experience, titled “I’m paying the price for your freedom.”

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Russian couple arrested as spies after helicopter raid in Stockholm

Sweden's Säpo security police have arrested two people on suspicion of carrying out and aiding "serious illegal espionage", after a raid on Tuesday morning which was supported by two army helicopters.

Russian couple arrested as spies after helicopter raid in Stockholm

According to a report in the Aftonbladet newspaper, they were a married couple, both in their 60s, from Russia. The raid took place at 6.01am on Tuesday at their detached house in the south of Stockholm. 

“The helicopter was hovering directly over the house and a team shot down and jumped in through the window,” one eyewitness to the operation told Sweden’s SVT broadcaster. “It was total mayhem, there were crowds of people running out of vans. I wondered ‘what’s going on?’.”  

Säpo said in a press release, that the two were seized after an investigation into what the police said was “a threat against Sweden’s security”, which had been carried out in secret “for some time”. The arrests, Säpo said, were not connected in any way to any other ongoing cases.  

One of the arrested individuals is suspected of the crimes of “gross unlawful intelligence activities against Sweden” and “gross unlawful intelligence activities against a foreign power”, and the other with being an accessory to these crimes. 

“What we can say is that these are serious accusations. “Gross unlawful intelligence activities” is a crime which threatens Sweden’s security,”  Gabriel Wernstedt, a press secretary for Säpo, told TT, pointing out that the men are also charged on suspicion of spying on foreign countries. “This implies that several countries have been affected.”

According to TT, the suspects were arrested in Stockholm, with the Swedish Armed Forces supplying two helicopters to aid in the operation.  A third person has been taken in for questioning. 

Stefan Hector, the head of the Swedish national police’s operations centre, said the operation, called “Operation Javelin” had taken less than a minute. 

“That’s so that that the perpetrators could be arrested simultaneously so that they would not be able to tamper with the evidence,” he said. “They couldn’t be allowed to flush anything down the toilet or delete data.”