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RACISM

Uproar as French mayor ‘counts Muslim children’

A French mayor backed by the far-right National Front was accused of racism on Tuesday after using the names of school children in his town to decide how many were Muslim.

Uproar as French mayor 'counts Muslim children'
Robert Ménard, mayor of Béziers in southern France. Photo: AFP

Under France's strict secularism laws, the government does not keep statistics on people's religion or ethnicity.

But Robert Ménard, mayor of Béziers in the south of the country, said his administration had used lists of pupils' names to decide how many were Muslim, and claimed the figure came to 64.6 percent.

"Sorry to say this, but the town hall has, class by class, the names of the children," he said on France 2 television on Monday night.

"I know I don't have the right to do it. Sorry to say it, but the first names tell us their religion. To say otherwise is to deny the evidence," he added.

He added that there were schools where the "majority of mothers don't speak French".

His comments brought condemnation from the Socialist government, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeting "shame on the mayor".

"The Republic does not make any distinction between its children," Valls said before adding that the scandal shows "the reality of the far-right".

French President François Hollande said keeping such a list was "against all the values of the Republic".

Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said she had called for a judicial investigation, saying Menard's statements were "profoundly anti-Republican".

"I am scandalised, sickened by these comments," added Abdallah Zekri, head of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia.

"Moreover, you can be called Mohammed without being a practising Muslim," he added.

However the town hall of Béziers denied on Wednesday that there was any list of children's names or that any effort had been made to identify which were Muslim.

"The town hall of Béziers does not have, and has never had, files on its children," it said in a statement.

Police raided the town hall late on Tuesday afternoon to gather evidence.

COURT

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

A French court has ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all its documents relating to efforts to combat racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts
Photo: Alastair Pike | AFP

Six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of “long-term and persistent” failures in blocking hateful comments from the site.

The Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fighting homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as “condoning crimes against humanity”.

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

The ruling was welcomed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), one of the groups that had taken the social media giant to court.

“Twitter will finally have to take responsibility, stop equivocating and put ethics before profit and international expansion,” the UEJF said in a statement on its website.

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence, or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination.

Like other social media businesses it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content.

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.

French prosecutors on Tuesday said they have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter aimed at members of the country’s national football team.

The comments, notably targeting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week.

France has also been having a wider public debate over how to balance the right to free speech with preventing hate speech, in the wake of the controversial case of a teenager known as Mila.

The 18-year-old sparked a furore last year when her videos, criticising Islam in vulgar terms, went viral on social media.

Thirteen people are on trial accused of subjecting her to such vicious harassment that she was forced to leave school and was placed under police protection.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, left-wing critics say her original remarks amounted to hate speech against Muslims.

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