Five people have been detained on suspicion of making death threats to a French 17-year-old who posted videos critical of Islam, prosecutors say.
Mila, who is only identified by one name for her protection, had to change schools last year after an Instagram video for her friends in which she criticised Islam was widely shared on social media, the BBC reports. In one remark, she described Islam as a “religion of hate”.
After this, she was getting about 30 hate messages a minute at one point, her lawyer said. It was then that France’s online hate crimes task force took over the case.
Mila’s story has revived debate in France on freedom of speech as well as protection for schoolchildren from online bullying.
In Paris last year, a schoolteacher was murdered close to his school days after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to a class discussing freedom of expression.
Le Figaro reported last month that since her initial comments, Mila had received more than 50,000 hate messages.
“She never made any racist comments, just used teenage words that were a bit vulgar,” her lawyer said. He added that Mila was now living in hiding as if she was “in a bunker”.
French online child protection group E-Enfance said Mila’s contact details had been revealed, and two hashtags sprang up, one in support of the teenager and another in opposition: #JeSuisMila (I am Mila) and #JeNeSuisPasMila.
She was then sent to a different school and her family was placed under police protection.
French President Emmanuel Macron came to her defence, insisting that under French law “we have the right to blaspheme”.
A number of people were prosecuted for threatening her last year, and a 23-year-old was given a jail term.
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.