Online cat videos have come to be associated with some of the cutest, silliest moments the Internet has to offer. But they can have a dark side too, as a legal sentence handed down Monday in France shows.
Farid Ghilas of Marseille was sentenced to a year in prison for animal cruelty after posting a video to his Facebook profile last week showing him hurling a kitten against a building. The video quickly went viral, sparking widespread horror and outrage and even death threats aimed at the perpetrator.
Though Ghilas is far from the first person to be arrested after publicizing incriminating details on social media, the incident had further, faster reach than most. By the time Ghilas took the video down, Facebook users had copied and pasted his profile information; posted his name, address, and phone number on the Web; and created Facebook pages calling for his arrest. The police ended up taking Ghilas into custody less than 24 hours after the video appeared online.
On Monday, just days later, some 200 animal-rights activists, accompanied by about 20 dogs, gathered outside a Marseille criminal court as the 24-year-old man was sentenced on charges of "acts of cruelty against a domestic and tame animal." The offense carries a maximum prison term of two years and a fine of 30,000 euros (about $40,500).
According to a translated version of a Metro News article on the ruling, Farid Ghilas gave no clear explanation of what drove him to abuse 5-month-old Oscar. "I do not know what came over me," he reportedly said several times. "I walked around the neighborhood. Cat came to me. I took it, I swung." After the video was shown in court, he murmured an apology.
The president of the Society for the Protection of Animals in Marseille, a plaintiff in the case, called the apology weak, Metro News reported. "We must set an example for all those who torment animals," Andy Salviano said, while asking tense and angry protesters to respect the sentence. Other plaintiffs included the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the welfare and protection of animals.
An online petition calling for prosecution of the man who filmed the Ghilas video had garnered more than 40,500 signatures at the time of this writing.
Meanwhile, the rust and white kitty -- rescued by a bystander who witnessed the ordeal -- suffered a fractured leg when he fell to the concrete and is now being cared for by the Marseille SPA, where, "like all kittens, [he's] just waiting to play," the organization reports. Oscar's guardian will reportedly be able to recover the pet soon. And if the Internet's past record of kindness to vulnerable animals and the many well wishes posted to the SPA's Facebook page are any indication, he now has supporters the world over.