French President defends controversial teenager’s right to criticise Islam

President Emmanuel Macron took the side of freedom of speech over religion as he defended 'the right to blaspheme' in the emotional 'Affaire Mila' debate that has been raging the country for weeks.

French President defends controversial teenager's right to criticise Islam
Macron said the 'Affaire Mila' showed that children needed to be better protected against "new forms of hate and harassment online". Photo: AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday defended a French teenager who received death threats after an expletive-laden Instagram rant against Islam, saying the right to blaspheme was enshrined in the constitution and that she needs to be protected.

The case of 16-year-old Mila – who has received a slew of death threats for calling Islam “a shitty religion” – has revived debates in France about freedom of speech and again laid bare divisions in the country.

READ ALSO: What is the 'Affaire Mila' and what does it say about France and Islam?

The furore prompted Mila's family to be put under police protection and meant she could no longer attend her school in southeast France.

“We have forgotten that Mila is an adolescent,” Macron told the Dauphiné Libéré regional newspaper.

“We owe her protection at school, in her daily life and when she moves around. The state has assumed its responsibilities.” 

The government announced earlier this month that a solution had been found to allow Mila to continue her schooling, without giving details.

Macron added that children needed to be better protected against “new forms of hate and harassment online”.

And he said: “The law is clear. We have the right to blaspheme, to criticise and to caricature religions.”

READ ALSO Islamophobia in Paris and London – how it differs and why

The government has largely distanced itself from remarks by Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet who declared the death threats received by Mila were “unacceptable in a democracy” but added her remarks about Islam were “clearly an infringement on freedom of conscience”. 

The controversy has come just over five years after a group of French cartoonists from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were gunned down by jihadist gunmen after poking fun at the Prophet Mohammed.

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France to roll out ID cards app

Technology is being rolled out to allow people to carry their French ID cards in an app form - and could be rolled out to other cards, including driving licences and cartes de séjour residency cards.

France to roll out ID cards app

Holders of French carte d’identité (ID cards) will soon be able to carry certified digital versions of them on their smartphone or other electronic devices, a decree published in the Journal Officiel has confirmed.

An official app is being developed for holders of the newer credit card-format ID cards that have information stored on a chip. A provisional test version of the app is expected at the end of May.

Users will be able to use the ID card app, when it becomes available, for a range of services “from checking in at the airport to renting a car”, according to Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market.

All French citizens have an ID card, which can be used for proving identity in a range of circumstances and for travel within the EU and Schengen zone – the new app will be in addition to the plastic card that holders already have.

Under the plans, after downloading the app, card holders will need merely to hold the card close to their phone to transfer the required information. According to officials, the holder then can decide what information is passed on – such as proof of age, or home address – according to the situation.

The government has not given any examples of situations in which the app would need to be used, but has set out the main principles and the ambition of the plan: to allow everyone to identify themselves and connect to certain public and private organisations, in particular those linked to the France Connect portal.

READ ALSO What is France Connect and how could it make your life simpler?

Cards will continue to be issued for the foreseeable future – this is merely an extension of the existing system.

Only French citizens have ID cards, but if successful the app is expected to be rolled out to include other cards, such as driving licences, cartes de séjour residency cards or even visas. A digital wallet is being developed at the European level – Member States have until September to agree what it could contain.

READ ALSO Eight smartphone apps that make life in France a bit easier