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France: 11 convicted of cyberbullying teen who slammed Islam

A French court has convicted 11 of 13 people charged with harassing and threatening a teenager who harshly criticized Islam in online posts and ended up changing schools and receiving police protection to preserve her safetyBy NICOLAS VAUX-MONTAGNY Associated PressJuly 7, 2021, 9:47 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articlePARIS — A French court on Wednesday convicted 11 of 13 people charged with harassing and threatening a teenager who harshly criticized Islam in online posts and ended up changing schools and receiving police protection to preserve her safety.The verdict came in a trial in Paris that was the first of its kind since France created a new court in January to prosecute online crimes, including harassment and discrimination.The court sentenced the defendants to suspended prison terms of four to six months and fined them about $1,770 each.“Social networks are the street. When you pass someone in the street, you don’t insult them, threaten them, make fun of them,” the presiding judge, Michel Humbert, said. “What you don’t do in the street, don’t do on social media.”The teen at the center of the landmark cyberbullying case, who has been identified publicly only by her first name, Mila, testified last month that she felt as if she had been “condemned to death.”Mila, who describes herself as atheist, was 16 when she started posting videos on Instagram and later TikTok harshly criticizing Islam and the Quran. Now 18, she testified that “I don’t like any religion, not just Islam.”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.Mila left one high school, then another. She is now monitored daily by the police for her safety.The 13 defendants from around France came from various backgrounds and religions and were but a handful of all the people who went after Mila with online comments. The others could not be tracked down.One of the 13 was acquitted because his post – “Blow it up” – was directed at Mila’s Twitter account, not at the young woman. The court dropped the case against another defendant for faulty procedures.———Vaux-Montagny reported from Lyon.

Cyberbullying trial tests French tools to fight online abuse

Cyberbullying trial tests French tools to fight online abuse

PARIS — A landmark cyberbullying trial in Paris, involving thousands of threats against a teenager who savaged Islam in online posts, is blazing a trail in efforts to punish and prevent online abuse.It has also raised uncomfortable questions about freedom of expression, freedom to criticize a religion, and respect for France’s millions of Muslims. But most of all, it’s been a trial about the power of the online word, and prosecutors hope it serves as a wake-up call to those who treat it lightly.Thirteen young people of various backgrounds and religions from around France face potential prison time for charges including online harassment, online death threats and online rape threats in the two-day trial wrapping up Tuesday. It’s the first of its kind since France created a new court in January to prosecute online crimes, including harassment and discrimination.One of the defendants wants to become a police officer. Another says he just wanted to rack up more followers by making people laugh. Some denied wrongdoing, others apologized. Most said they tweeted or posted without thinking.The teen at the center of the trial, who has been identified publicly only by her first name, Mila, told the court she feels as if she’s been “condemned to death.””I do not see my future,” she said.Mila, who describes herself as atheist, was 16 when she started posting videos on Instagram and later TikTok harshly criticizing Islam and the Quran. Now 18, she testified that “I don’t like any religion, not just Islam.”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 homosexuality.Mila had to quit her high school, then another. She is now monitored daily by the police for her safety.“It’s been a cataclysm, it feels like the sky is falling on our heads … a confrontation with pure hatred,” her mother told the court.Mila’s online enemies don’t fit a single profile. Among the thousands of threats, authorities tracked down 13 suspects who are on trial this week. All are being identified publicly only by their first names, according to French practice.The trial focused on comments in response to a TikTok video by Mila in November criticizing Islam. A defendant named Manfred threatened to turn her into another Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded outside Paris in October after showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class.Manfred told the court he was “pretending to be a stalker to make people laugh.”“I knew she was controversial because she criticized Islam. I wanted to have fun and get new subscribers,” he testified.Defendant Enzo, 22, apologized in court for tweeting “you deserve to have your throat slit,” followed by a sexist epithet.Others argued their posts didn’t constitute a crime.“At the time, I was not aware that it was harassment. When I posted the tweet, I wasn’t thinking,” testified Lauren, a 21-year-old university student who tweeted about Mila: “Have her skull crushed, please.”Alyssa, 20, one of the few Muslim defendants, says she reacted “like everyone else on Twitter” and stood by her criticism of Mila’s posts.While the defense lawyer argued that it’s not the same thing to insult a god or a religion and a human being, Alyssa disagreed.“For me, it is of the same nature. Mila used freedom of expression, I thought that (tweeting an angry response) was also freedom of expression,” she said.Freedom of expression is considered a fundamental right and blasphemy is not a crime in France. After Mila’s initial video in January 2020, a legal complaint was filed against her for incitement to racial hatred. That investigation was dropped for lack of evidence.Some French Muslims feel that their country, and President Emmanuel Macron’s government, unfairly stigmatize their religious practices.Mila’s online videos rekindled those concerns, and divided French society. While the threats against her were broadly condemned, former Socialist President Francois Hollande was among those who argued that while she has the right to criticize religion, “she should not engage in hate speech about those who practice their religion.”Nawfel, 19, didn’t see the harm when he tweeted that Mila deserved the death penalty and insulted her sexuality. He has passed tests to become a gendarme and hopes not to be sentenced, to keep a clean record. The trial has given him new perspective on online activity.“Without social media, everyone would have a normal life,” he said. “Now there are many people who will think before they write.”The defendants face up to two years in prison and 30,000 euros in fines (about $37,000) if convicted of online harassment. Some are also accused of online death threats, an offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of three years and a fine of up to 45,000 euros ($55,000).The prosecutor however only requested suspended sentences. A verdict is expected July 9.“You have the power to stop this digital lynching,” defense lawyer Malka told the judges. “Fear of the law is the only thing that remains.”Mila remains active on social networks.“I have this need to show that I will not change who I am and what I think,” she said. “I see it as like a woman who has been raped in the street and who is asked not to go out, so that it doesn’t happen again.”———Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

Ikea fined $1.2 million over spying campaign in France

Ikea fined $1.2 million over spying campaign in France

A French court has ordered home furnishings giant Ikea to pay more than $1.2 million in fines and damages Tuesday over a campaign to spy on union representatives, employees and some unhappy customers in FranceBy NICOLAS VAUX-MONTAGNY Associated PressJune 15, 2021, 10:13 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleVERSAILLES, France — A French court ordered home furnishings giant Ikea to pay more than 1 million euros ($1.2 million) in fines and damages Tuesday over a campaign to spy on union representatives, employees and some unhappy customers in France.Two former Ikea France executives were convicted and fined over the scheme and given suspended prison sentences. Among the other 13 defendants in the high-profile trial, some were acquitted and others given suspended sentences.Abel Amara, a former Ikea employee who helped expose the wrongdoing, called the ruling “a big step in defense of the citizen….It makes me glad that there is justice in France.”The panel of judges at the Versailles court found that Ikea’s French subsidiary used espionage to sift out trouble-makers in the ranks and profile squabbling customers between 2009 and 2012.Trade unions accused Ikea France of collecting personal data by fraudulent means, notably via illegally obtained police files, and illicitly disclosing personal information. Lawyers for Ikea France denied that the company had any strategy of “generalized espionage.”A lawyer for the unions, Solene Debarre, expressed hope that the verdict would “make some companies tremble.”“One million euros isn’t much for Ikea, but it’s a symbol,” Debarre said.The company, which said it cooperated in the investigation, had faced a potential financial penalty of up to 3.75 million euros ($4.5 million). Prosecutor Pamela Tabardel asked the court to hand “an exemplary sentence and a strong message to all companies.”The executive who was in charge of risk management at the time of the spying, Jean-François Paris, acknowledged to French judges that 530,000 to 630,000 euros a year were earmarked for such investigations. Paris — the only official to have admitted to the alleged illegal sleuthing — said his department was responsible for handling the operation on orders from former Ikea France CEO Jean-Louis Baillot.Paris was fined 10,000 euros ($12,125) and given an 18-month suspended sentence.Baillot, who denied ordering up a spy operation, was fined 50,000 euros ($60,626) and given a two-year suspended sentence.Another former CEO of Ikea France was acquitted for lack of evidence.Ikea France’s lawyer, Emmanuel Daoud, said the company hadn’t decided whether to appeal. He said the case was marked by a lack of hard evidence and holes, and noted that the fines were well below the maximum possible.“The court took into account the action plan that Ikea put in place after the revelation of the facts, in 2012. That’s very satisfying,” Daoud said.The company fired four executives and changed internal policy after French prosecutors opened a criminal probe in 2012.Trade unions alleged that Ikea France paid to gain access to police files that had information about targeted individuals, particularly union activists and customers who were in disputes with Ikea.In one situation, Ikea France was accused of using unauthorized information to try to catch an employee who had claimed unemployment benefits but drove a Porsche. In another alleged instance of illegal prying, the subsidiary reportedly investigated an employee’s criminal record to determine how the employee was able to own a BMW on a low income.The company also faces potential damages from separate civil lawsuits filed by unions and 74 employees.Ikea’s France subsidiary employs more than 10,000 people in 34 stores, an e-commerce site and a customer support center.———Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.

Ikea France execs face verdicts for alleged worker spying

A panel of French judges is to rule Tuesday whether officials of the French subsidiary of Ikea, the home furnishings giant with a family-friendly image, spied on union representatives, employees and some unhappy customersBy NICOLAS VAUX-MONTAGNY Associated PressJune 15, 2021, 6:41 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleVERSAILLES, France — A panel of judges is to rule Tuesday whether officials of the French subsidiary of Ikea, the home furnishings giant with a family-friendly image, spied on union representatives, employees and some unhappy customers.Ikea France, two former CEOs and a risk management official are among 15 people facing possible fines, prison terms or both for an alleged system of espionage to sift out trouble-makers in the ranks and profile squabbling customers between 2009 and 2012.Trade unions accuse Ikea France of collecting personal data by fraudulent means, notably via illegally obtained police files, and illicitly disclosing personal information.If convicted, the company, which said it cooperated in the investigation, risks a maximum penalty of 3.75 million euros ($4.5 million).At the close of a two-week trial in Versailles in March, prosecutor Pamela Tabardel asked the court to hand Ikea France a 2 million-euro fine, “an exemplary sentence and a strong message to all companies.”Lawyers for Ikea France denied that the company had any strategy of “generalized espionage.”But the executive then in charge of risk management, Jean-François Paris, acknowledged to French judges that 530,000 to 630,000 euros a year were earmarked for such investigations. Paris — the only official to have admitted to the alleged illegal sleuthing — said his department was responsible for handling the operation on orders from former CEO Jean-Louis Baillot.Paris is charged with detaining information of a personal nature and complicity in illegally divulging it.The two former CEOs are charged with complicity in illegally collecting and receiving stolen personal information among other things. If convicted, they face sentences of up to 10 years in prison and fines of 750,000 euros.Baillot, chief executive officer from 1996 to 2009, has denied he ordered up a spy operation.For Ikea France’s lawyer, Emmanuel Daoud, the entire case is marked by a lack of hard evidence and holes.Trade unions alleged that Ikea France paid to gain access to police files that had information about targeted individuals, particularly union activists and customers who were in disputes with Ikea. Two police officers who furnished information are among those awaiting judgement.Among accusations was the alleged use of unauthorized data by Ikea France to try to catch an employee who had claimed unemployment benefits but drove a Porsche. In another alleged instance of illegal prying, the subsidiary reportedly investigated an employee’s criminal record to determine how the employee was able to own a BMW on a low income.The company fired four executives and changed internal policy after French prosecutors opened a criminal probe in 2012.The company also faces potential damages from civil lawsuits filed by unions and 74 employees.In France, Ikea, a subsidiary of the Swedish furniture store, employs more than 10,000 people in 34 stores, an e-commerce site and a customer support center.———Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.