Algerian footballer Youcef Atal convicted in France over post on Gaza war

A Nice court handed Atal a suspended sentence for reposting a video the 27-year-old said he did not fully watch before sharing.

Nice's Algerian defender Youcef Atal
Nice's Algerian defender Youcef Atal arrives at a Nice court, for his trial for incitement to hatred, in December 2023 [File: Valery Hache/AFP]

A French court has given Algerian football player Youcef Atal an eight-month suspended prison sentence for a post he shared on social media about the war in Gaza.

The Nice criminal court said on Wednesday that a video Atal reposted on social media in October provoked hatred on the grounds of religion.

It also ordered the footballer, who plays for the Ligue 1 team Nice, to pay a fine of 45,000 euros ($49,000).

The comments at issue came in a video of preacher Mahmoud al-Hasanat, which Atal posted to his 3.2 million Instagram followers five days after the October 7 start of the Israel-Gaza war.

After speaking about the children Israel was killing in its retaliatory attacks on Gaza, al-Hasanat reportedly made an anti-Jewish remark and called on God to “guide the hand” of Gaza Palestinians striking back.

Al Jazeera was not able to confirm the contents of the Instagram post, which Atal quickly deleted and apologised for.

In the three months of Israel’s war on Gaza, more than 22,000 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children.

When Atal shared the video, he was with the Algerian national team in his home country. He withdrew it the following day when Nice warned him it was likely to attract controversy.

The 27-year-old also offered his apologies, saying he would “never support a message of hate” and that he condemns violence “no matter where in the world”.

Nice's Algerian defender Youcef Atal
Nice’s Algerian defender Youcef Atal shoots the ball during the French L1 football match between OGC Nice and Toulouse FC at the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice, May 2023 [File: Nicolas Tucat/AFP]

During his court hearing in December, Atal apologised again, saying he had wanted to send a “message of peace” and did not watch the entire 35-second video before posting it.

But that did not convince prosecutors or plaintiffs.

“Sharing a video means being party to its message and lending it visibility,” prosecutor Meggi Choutia told the court.

Atal will further pay for details of his conviction to be published in regional daily Nice-Matin and national newspaper Le Monde.

Nice suspended Atal from playing “until further notice” while he received a seven-match ban, which has since expired from the Professional Football League (LFP).

He was also previously detained by French authorities in November due to the post and was released on bail of 80,000 euros ($87,500) and placed under judicial supervision until the trial.

However, he has appeared three times for the Algeria national team, is in their squad for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations competition, and received support in his home country.

The Nice player is one of several football players who has faced criticism or handed penalties for their social media posts on the war in Gaza.

After French football star Karim Benzema criticised “unjust bombings which spare no women or children” in a social media post about Israel’s assault on Gaza, France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin accused him – without evidence – of having links to the Muslim Brotherhood. A French senator also called on Benzema to be stripped of previous football awards as well as his French citizenship.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies