Watchdog Condemns Questioning of 8-Year-Old for 'Defending' Paris Terror Attacks

Je suis Charlie
A woman pushes a pram past a "Je Suis Charlie" street art near Brick Lane in east London January 14, 2015. Luke MacGregor/Reuters

The questioning of an eight-year-old boy for "defending terrorism" by police in Nice, France after he made a comment in school about siding with the Charlie Hebdo attackers has been condemned as "unacceptable" by the country's main Islamaphobia watchdog.

The boy, identified only as Ahmed, was asked if he was Charlie, in reference to the satirical magazine attacked by masked radical Islamists, three times by his teacher, to which he replied that he opposed the cartoons because of its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad and he was on the side of the attackers.

He had also caused concern at the school when he refused to acknowledge a minute's silence for the 12 victims killed in the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo.

"It is very shocking that a school, teachers and headmaster can treat a child like this," said Elsa Rayk, a spokeswoman for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), which has picked up the boy's case. "It is obviously a reflection on the society in which we live and the hysterical atmosphere since the terrorist attacks in Paris."

"What is shocking is that they put a lot of pressure on this child, also physical and psychological violence against this child and we know it is because this child is Muslim and it is unacceptable," Rayk added.

The boy's lawyer Sefen Guez Guez told French broadcaster BFMTV: "A police station is absolutely no place for an eight-year-old child."

"He [the boy] answered, 'I am on the side of the terrorists, because I am against the caricatures of the Prophet'," said Guez, adding that the country had gone into a state of "collective hysteria" since the Paris attacks on the offices of a satirical magazine and a kosher grocery.

Guez also wrote on his Twitter account that, when asked by French police what the word "terrorism" meant, the boy replied: "I don't know."

Fiyaz Mughal, Director of Tell MAMA, a British organisation that monitors anti-Muslim attacks, argued that the questioning of children by French authorities could lead them "in the very direction which the actions are trying to stop" later in life.

"Sadly, what this child may need is support to understand the impacts of what he is saying and to try and ensure that he can understand what is happening. Isolating him may just become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Mughal also suggested that the actions of French authorities would further alienate North African Maghrebi communities within France, reinforcing "us versus them" attitudes.

"The community impact of this kind of action is significant. The North African Maghrebi community, who are of French origin, will now be saying in effect 'don't say anything, don't do anything' so they are going into shutdown mode. This is disengaging that very community from feeling or being part of France. This is a problem."

"It just reinforces 'them against us' and that's the very thing that the killers tried to do. The authorities are overreacting and reinforcing [these attitudes]."

In the week following the assault on the magazine's offices on 7 January, 54 people were arrested across France for 'defending terrorism'.

The country has strong laws against hate speech but the crackdown following the attacks has sparked widespread debate about the boundaries of free speech. Inciting terrorism carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison while doing so online can bring up to seven years.

In the second Paris attack, five people were killed on a kosher grocery by radical Islamist gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, who later pledged allegiance to the Islamic State [ISIS] in a posthumous video message.

French police were not immediately available for comment.