A French court has convicted eleven people of threatening a teenager who criticised Islam on social media.
In the first verdict of its kind, the defendants were given suspended prison sentences and fines for online harassment.
The girl at the centre of the landmark cyberbullying case has only been identified publicly by her first name, Mila.
Mila, who describes herself as an atheist, was 16 years old when she started posting videos on Instagram, and later TikTok, harshly criticising Islam and the Quran.
The videos drew strong reactions online, forcing Mila to change schools and receive police protection.
Thirteen people were placed on trial over the case, at the new Paris court set up in January to prosecute online crimes, including harassment and discrimination.
On Wednesday, eleven people were handed suspended prison terms of four to six months and collectively fined €2,500. The cases against two other defendants were dropped.
Speaking at the trial Mila — now aged 18 — testified that she doesn’t like “any religion, not just Islam,” and that the online hate messages made her feel like she had been “condemned to death”.
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.
After the verdict was read, Mila said that all victims of online abuse should stand together and demand action against harassment on social networks.
“I was expecting worse and, honestly, we won and will win again because what I want is that, united, we will never give up,” she said.
“We will continue to fight … I never want the victims to be blamed again,” she added.
Mila’s trial also raised uncomfortable questions about freedom of expression and respect for France’s millions of Muslim citizens, but the Paris court focused on the aspect of online abuse.
“Social networks are the street. When you pass someone in the street, you don’t insult them, threaten them, make fun of them,” said the presiding judge, Michel Humbert. “What you don’t do in the street, don’t do on social media.”
Juan Branco, the lawyer for one of the defendants, denounced the verdict on Wednesday.
“[My client] is not a fanatic, is someone who respects beliefs, [but] who doesn’t like this climate where one part of the French population is systemically under attack,” he said.
According to French Citizenship Minister Marlene Schiappa, online hate crimes rose by 34% in 2020.
“The entire country must condemn the aggressors and cease to blame the victims,” Schiappa said in a statement.
On Tuesday, a French court also gave Twitter two months to share details about its procedures to stop users from inciting violence, racial hatred, or committing other offenses.
The ruling arose from a civil lawsuit brought by groups that fight racism and anti-LGBT discrimination, who argued that Twitter was not doing enough to moderate and remove content that violates French hate speech or other laws.
Twitter has said they are deciding whether to appeal the case.