An eight-year-old French boy, named Ahmed, was at the centre of a major row in France on Thursday after he was grilled at a police station for allegedly making comments in school supporting the Paris terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo.
When asked by other pupils if he was with “Charlie”, the pupil allegedly responded "I am with the terrorists”.
The school reported it to the local education authority who then decided to involve the police and Ahmed was questioned, on suspicion that his words constituted "glorifying terrorism". The parents have reportedly lodged a complaint against the school's headteacher.
The story prompted a public reaction and it wasn't long before #Ahmed8ans (Ahmed eight-years-old) was trending on Twitter.
While some right-wing politicians have backed the school’s reaction, anti-racism groups have lamented the "collective hysteria that has engulfed France" in the days after the attacks and civil liberties groups have blasted the the courts by handing out jail sentences to those accused of "glorifying terrorism".
Agnes Tricoire, from the Human Rights League (Ligue des droits de l’homme) tells The Local why the school failed to do its job and why France is in danger of giving the terrorists exactly what they aimed for.
“By handing over the case of the eight-year-old boy to police, the school reneged on its job.
"When it comes to a boy that young it is up to the school and the teachers to find out what he said and explain to him why these words are not allowed. It’s about teaching him, not about punishing him. This is not a case for the police, they have other things to do.
“I think most teachers would know that this is their job, but there are clearly some who have lost their common sense and have been affected by the current climate in France, which has become very repressive.
“Before the counter-terror law that came in November 2014 accusations of “glorifying terrorism” were dealt with by special courts under the law for the press, but now they are dealt with by criminal courts.
“Now judges are sending people to prison for rash things they said, either when they were drunk or something they uttered just to be provocative. Before there was a balance that took into account freedom of speech but now cursory justice is being handed out.
“It is the kind of justice which we are very much against, which is justice by making example of people. They take an individual and don’t really consider his situation and hand out a sentence just for the sake of showing others what will happen.
“We understand the courts are under pressure because the ministry of justice sent out instructions for them to be severe and asked prosecutors to be tough.
“But who are these people they are jailing? Drunks, people with mental health problems. It’s ridiculous. This is not the way to deal with 'glorifying terrorism'.
“It’s not by sending them to prison that we’ll stop young people from wanting to be provocative. There’s an immense need for education. There’s always a risk in situation like this, after the terror attacks, that people say or do things we don’t want. But we must react in the way and not be alarmist.
“I don’t want to criticize the reaction of the government because that would be unfair but it must not drift towards authoritarianism. We need to keep people together.
“The terrorists wanted to attack our freedoms so we cannot give them what they wanted.
“We can understand sending people to prison for crimes of violence but not for expression. The real people they must target are the activists trying to encourage others to carry out attacks.
“As far as we are concerned the law against terrorism is to target terrorists, not young people who write something on Facebook or Twitter or drunks – or even eight-year-old school pupils. That would not be effective justice.”