This week four elementary school children were "terrorized" and grilled during more than 11 hours of detention by French police over false allegations of "justifying terrorism," according to the children’s parents.
The police "clearly wanted to terrorize us," said Servet Yildirim, the father of one of the children.
Under a 2014 criminal provision, French prosecutors have been aggressively pursuing anyone who speaks positively of a terrorist act or group even if they have no intention of inciting violence or promoting the group, according to Human Rights Watch.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, parents of the four children living in Albertville, southeastern France – all 10 years old, three of Turkish descent, one of Algerian descent – denounced the police’s excessive use of force this Thursday.
"Before 7 a.m., the police knocked [on the door] in such a way as to almost break it," said Yildirim, the Franco-Turkish father of E.Y., speaking in an evident state of shock.
"Ten masked policemen carrying big weapons entered the house," he said, remembering the police’s aggressiveness and shouting.
The police woke up E.Y., Yildirim’s 10-year-old daughter, and and told them they were taking her to the police station, he recalled.
"They took pictures of the wall decorations, tried to find clues by searching the whole house,” he said.
Later, at the police station, “They asked us a lot of questions about our religious beliefs, if we do prayers, etc.”
"They questioned both of us, my wife and I, for two hours.
Apart from questions about our religion, they asked us what we thought about the tense relationship between [French President Emmanuel] Macron and [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan," said the father, calling the questions disrespectful and provocative.
"Like they did in the morning, they clearly wanted to terrorize us with the noise and the excessive violence. I don’t understand: 10 overly armed police officers, trying to, it seems, to break down our door, to come and get my 10-year-old daughter, who was still asleep."
She knows nothing about that
According to the father, the 11-hour detention of his daughter and the police’s "overly aggressive and quite frightening" behavior might concern what the children said after a classroom discussion of blasphemous cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad and last month’s murder of a teacher who showed the cartoons in class.
Though his daughter might have said something about the murder, explained the father, she is only 10 and "knows nothing about that."
"These aren’t things we talk about at home," he said, adding that "everyone knows our family after 20 years of living here. The school knows us very well; we had several children who went to the same school. If there was a concern about radicalization with us, everyone would know."
I was very scared
E.Y., the 10-year-old girl detained by police for some 11 hours, told Anadolu Agency when her teacher asked what she thought about the murder of the teacher “I told her that I was sorry that he’s dead but nothing would have happened if he hadn’t showed the cartoons.”
“My teacher just responded. ‘Okay, I understand,’ and that was it,” she related.
On her long detention by police, she said: “I was very scared. This is the first time something like this happened to me.”
She added: “The police asked if I go to mosque, and I told them I go there on Saturdays and Sundays.”
She said the experience left her very shaken.
No response from police or school
The Albertville police told Anadolu Agency that they could not give information on the detention of the four children.
The parents interviewed by Anadolu Agency also said the police refused to provide them with documentation on the reason for the detention of their children or their questioning.
According to the father, two of the four children taken by the police were transported to Chambery, an Alpine town in southeastern France.
The school where the incident took place did not respond to Anadolu Agency's request for comments.
Twelve million students resumed school this week in France amid the coronavirus outbreak, in particular pupils aged 6 or over wearing compulsory masks.
The return to school was also marked by a tribute to Samuel Paty, the teacher killed last month, as announced by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.
The teachers were also given the option of holding a discussion about the murder.
*Writing by Felix Tih and Merve Berker