French trial opens over anti-Asian Covid tweets

A protestor holds up a sign during a Stop Asian Hate rally at Discovery Green in Houston, Texas on 20 March, 2021. (Illustration photo)
A protestor holds up a sign during a Stop Asian Hate rally at Discovery Green in Houston, Texas on 20 March, 2021. (Illustration photo) © AFP/Mark Felix

Five French students went on trial in Paris Wednesday accused of racism and inciting hatred after they posted anti-Asian tweets blaming Chinese people for the coronavirus lockdown.


The five students, aged between 19 and 25, are accused of having posted tweets blaming Chinese people after French President Emmanuel Macron announced a second round of strict stay-at-home rules on 29 October.

All of the accused had no previous criminal record. The verdict is expected on 26 May, with the defendants most likely facing damages if convicted rather than prison.

The Covid-19 virus originated in China and there have been concerns throughout Western countries about anti-Asian sentiments.

"Put me in a cage with a Chinese, I want to have fun with him, break him, I want to see all hope in his eyes fade before me," one of the students tweeted in postings that were read out in court.


In response to such posts, the social media hashtags "#IAmNotAVirus" (#JeNeSuisPasUnVirus) and "#StopTheVirusOfHatred" (#StopAuVirusDeLaHaine) emerged to combat stereotypes.

Protesters gathered in front of the Paris court, with one man carrying a placard which read "In Atlanta or in Paris, no to anti-Asian racism," in reference to last week's mass shooting in the US that killed six Asian women.

"My mother has been attacked, my aunt too. Because we are Asian, people think that we have money," Darith Ly, a 30-year-old of Chinese-Cambodian descent, told French news agency AFP at the protest in Paris.

"If there are differences between countries, it should remain political and diplomatic," said Bai Quan, an owner of Chinese restaurants across France.


Critics have accused police of neglecting to address a threat against France's Chinese community, targeted because of stereotypes that they are wealthy and often carry large amounts of cash.

The violent beating to death of a tailor, Zhang Chaolin, in northern Paris in 2016 brought to light these assaults on members of the Asian community.

The 49-year-old father of two was on his way to a restaurant in a Paris suburb when he was mugged by two teenagers, who came away with just a phone charger and some sweets. They were jailed in 2018.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to "new dimensions of anti-Asian racism," according to a May study by France's Institute of National Demographic Studies (INED).

(with AFP)

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