Four young adults in France have been found guilty of “public insult of racist nature and incitement to commit a crime” by a Paris court for publishing anti-Asian tweets blaming Chinese people for the spread of coronavirus.
The four students, aged 19-24, were sentenced to paying back the plaintiffs’ lawyer fees and around €1,000 in damages and interests, the Paris prosecutor’s office told CNN. A fifth individual involved in the case was found not guilty, the prosecutor’s office added.
Soc Lam, a lawyer for the Association of Young Chinese People in France and one of the plaintiffs in the case, told CNN on Wednesday that the trial had “brought the public and the judges’ attention on this phenomenon, so that those messages of hate stop.”
In May 2020, a study published by France’s Institute of National Demographic Studies found that the coronavirus pandemic “revealed new dimensions of anti-Asian racism in France.”
“Beyond social networks, where racist comments break free and where clichés become commonplace, this xenophobia goes from moving further (from Asian people) in public spaces, to verbal or physical assault,” the study said.
The study said an ongoing investigation following a group of Chinese immigrants in the Parisian region has revealed a “diversity” of attacks.
“Many emphasize their reluctance to wear a mask for fear of being the target of assault; some chooses to avoid wearing masks to avoid the risk, while others still use it, but feel uncomfortable,” it said.
One female participant in the study testified to verbal attacks, including having people shouting “corona” at her. Asian children who were bullied at school said they were called “viruses.”
The problem is not unique to France.
As the pandemic has unfolded, reports of anti-East and anti-Southeast Asian hate crimes have increased in Western countries, exacerbated in some cases by political rhetoric emphasizing China’s connection to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Within this environment, advocates say people of East Asian and Southeast Asian heritage have increasingly become a target for racism.
In the US, reported hate crimes against Asians in 16 of the nation’s largest cities and counties are up 164% since this time last year, according to a new study published earlier this month from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State University San Bernardino.
Last week, US President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that is aimed at countering a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes marked during the pandemic, saying the legislation is part of the nation’s first step toward unity.
But many European countries, including France, Germany and Belgium, do not collect demographic data on ethnicity for historical reasons, making it difficult to take an accurate measure of the scale of the problem.
CNN’s Tara John, Christopher Johnson and Kara Fox contributed to this report.