French teenager in hiding after insulting Islam online
Adam Sage, Paris
Police have told a French teenager to go into hiding after she received death threats for insulting Islam.
The 16-year-old has been advised to stay away from her lycée (sixth-form college) in southeast France after calls on the internet for her to be killed, raped or attacked.
The girl, named only as Mila, is understood to have been told by officials that she should avoid being seen in public until the controversy fades. She is being given psychological support by the local prosecutor’s office.
Prosecutors said two separate criminal inquiries were under way, the first to track the authors of threats to kill and rape the teenager, the second to determine whether her comments amounted to the offence of hate speech.
The case risks widening the gulf between mainstream French society and the country’s five to six million Muslims who often claim they suffer discrimination on a greater scale than their counterparts in the UK.
With Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally, and other far-right politicians seizing upon the case, there are fears that it could exacerbate the religious and social tensions that are already running high in French society.
This week the hashtags #jesuismila (I am Mila) and #jenesuispasmila (I am not Mila) have been among the most popular on Twitter in France.
The girl, who lives in the Isère area near Lyons, and wants to become a singer, was sharing a live video on Instagram on Saturday when she became embroiled in a row with a male Instagram user making what she calls “heavy-handed propositions” online during her broadcast.
When she refused his sexual advances, he called her a “dirty dyke” and mentioned that he was a Muslim. She responded by saying that: “I hate religion. The Koran is . . . full of hate. There is only hate in it. Islam is a shit religion. That’s what I think.” The video has now been viewed more than one million times, provoking a vehement backlash against the teenager.
Her name and address and those of her school were divulged on the internet, prompting the local education authority to alert prosecutors. “Someone called my lycée pretending to be my father,” she said. “The lycée called the police to protect me.”
Mila told French media agencies that at one point, “I was receiving 200 messages of pure hatred a minute.” Blasphemy is not a crime in France.
Proponents of the secularism that has been the official French state policy since 1905 argue that the country should make few concessions to Islam and avoid going down a British-style multicultural path.
In recent years, for instance, France has banned Muslim pupils from wearing veils in schools and made it illegal to go outside in a burka, the garment that covers the whole body including the face. Traditionalist councils have also implemented bans on the burkinis, the Muslim body-covering swimsuit.
Such measures have been promoted largely by the right, but have found a measure of support from left-wing French feminists claiming that Islam is incompatible with sexual equality. Both groups have sprung to the support of the teenager.
Mrs Le Pen said: “We might find [the girl’s comments] vulgar, but we can’t accept the fact that some people sentence her to death for that in France in the 21st century.”
The prosecutor’s office in Vienne, near Lyons, said: “The viral [postings] spread on social media networks of a video posted by a young girl expressing, during a personal discussion, virulent and hostile comments about the Muslim religion has provoked a multiplication of reactions taking the form of death threats and threats to commit crimes.
“The gravity of the threats . . . has made it necessary to remove the girl from school temporarily and to take care of her.”
The office said an investigation was under way to “find and to prosecute” the authors of the threats. A second investigation aimed to decide whether the girl’s comments constituted a “criminal offence” or fell within the definition of “free speech . . . [which] is a constitutional value”.
Solveig Mineo, who defines herself as a feminist and a “Westernist”, said: “This is what a young girl risks in 2020 for having said no to a boy."