Faced with the “surge of violence” targeting the ex-journalist Nicolas Hénin, the “apologies” and “regrets” of the Internet users prosecuted

At the Paris Court of Justice,

Each time, it’s the same vertigo. On the one hand, there are the words, hateful and violent, posted under pseudonyms on social networks to “hurt” and “injure”. And, on the other, these ill-at-ease silhouettes, with hesitant voices when they come to the bar, once unmasked. The hearing held this Wednesday before the 24th chamber of the Paris court has, once again, swayed this distinction wrongly maintained by many Internet users between the “real” and the “virtual”.

For the five defendants sent back to court for death threats and their participation in a digital raid against former journalist Nicolas Hénin, reality came crashing down on their doorstep in the fall after a summons from the forces of the order. Three years earlier, in February 2019, these three men and two women aged 21 to 56 had sent Nicolas Hénin hate messages on the social network Twitter. In total, this former war reporter, detained for months by Daesh in Syria, had received nearly 20,000 insulting messages.

A “surge of violence”

Present at the hearing on Wednesday, Nicolas Hénin described the genesis of this “surge of violence”. Registered on Twitter since 2011, the man gained visibility on the network on his return from Raqqa, after ten months of captivity. “But it was no longer a question of doing war reporting. I had already made my family suffer too much, ”he confided to the bar. The former journalist then decided to put his expertise on terrorism to good use, took part in “disengagement” programs with radicalized detainees and published several essays on the subject.

At the same time, he leads on social networks and, in particular, on Twitter, “a hunt for jihadist content”. On January 31, 2019, however, it is a message posted by the father of a victim of the Bataclan attack, Patrick Jardin, which catches his attention. Very active on this network, the bereaved man called for the shooting of the 130 French jihadists detained in Syria after the fall of the Islamic State. Reacting to the remarks of the Minister of Justice at the time who specified that 75% of these nationals were “children under 7 years old”, Patrick Jardin had published the following message: “So let’s also kill their children, besides we should start there. »

Apologies and “very poorly chosen words”

Shocked by this “torrent of hatred”, journalist Nicolas Hénin called on Internet users to report this tweet. An instruction visibly heard by its subscribers since the account of Patrick Jardin was suspended in the process by Twitter. Several very influential far-right personalities on the network such as Damien Rieu, Jean Messiha or Gilbert Collard will be moved by it. In the wake of these reactions, a wave of harassment will then overwhelm Nicolas Hénin: “I saw photos of my children go by, personal information about me was published, I was seized with physical fear. My sleep was very disturbed and I had moments of anxiety. Cautious, the former reporter archives the tens of thousands of hateful messages that target him and files a complaint against X a few days later.

Among the tweets sent to justice, we find the one posted by the [email protected]_Chretien: “Damn but what a son of a bitch. He is the one who deserves execution. “Behind the nickname, the investigators manage to identify Mattis C. He is the youngest of the defendants and the only one – with the dean, Nathalie T. – to have moved to the hearing this Wednesday. Midnight blue shirt and glasses on his nose, this student in a prestigious business school wanted to speak directly to Nicolas Hénin from the start of his hearing: “I am happy that he is here to apologize to him. »

At the time, Mattis C. was 18 years old and under “pressure” from the “prepa”: “But I’m not saying that to justify myself! Just to explain, ”he reframes. “I was spontaneous, angry (…) I didn’t think he was going to read my tweet”, explained the young man while recognizing “very poorly chosen words” and regretting his “lack of maturity”. Without having ever denied being the author of this message, Mattis C. maintained that he did not realize that his post was part of a group harassment.

Two to three months suspended prison sentence required

Curled up on her jump seat, her hands clasped behind her back, Nathalie T. struggled to apologize. His message, however, particularly marked Nicolas Hénin. Under a pseudonym, this 56-year-old employee had published this tirade: “I wish that the next victim of terrorists will be your kid (…) I wish that before dying he knows that his informer father will have compassion for his assassins. Subscriber to Patrick Jardin’s account, she explained that she was “hurt” by Nicolas Hénin’s remarks about this father affected by the terrorist attacks. “I had the feeling that he did not understand his pain,” she said at the helm.

“Why didn’t you tell him like that, then?” “said the president. “I did not think (…) I regret the form, I think that today I would say it differently, in a less violent way”, she stammered. A speech that did not convince the prosecutor: “You regret the form but not so much the substance and you have to stretch out a pole to hear excuses! Calling on the court to condemn all of the defendants for the acts of harassment in a pack, the magistrate requested two to three months of suspended prison sentence against them.

In his argument, Nicolas Hénin’s lawyer, Me Eric Morain, called on the court to pronounce a “judgment of responsibility”. Describing cyberbullying as a “cowardly offence”, the criminal lawyer recalled that his client had been sentenced to ten days of ITT (temporary incapacity for work) at the end of this digital raid. The decision will be made on June 15.

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