Six French teenagers convicted in connection to beheading of school teacher

The murder of history teacher Samuel Paty shocked France and fuelled contentious debates about freedom of expression.

A memorial to slain French teacher Samuel Paty
A photograph taken on October 16 shows a commemorative plaque for slain teacher Samuel Paty near the Bois d'Aulne school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, outside of Paris [Bertrand Guay/Pool via Reuters]

A French court has convicted six teenagers in connection with the 2020 beheading of history teacher Samuel Paty, whose murder shocked the country.

In a decision on Friday, the court found five of the six defendants, aged 14 through 15 at the time of the attack, guilty of helping the attacker identify the teacher.

The sixth defendant was found guilty of lying about the content of a classroom debate that sparked anger at the teacher, who showed students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a discussion about free expression. Most Muslims avoid depictions of prophets, considering them to be blasphemous.

Paty was killed and decapitated outside of a school in a Paris suburb on October 16, 2020, by an 18-year-old of Chechen origin named Abdoullakh Anzorov.

Five of the accused students were accused of staking out Paty as he left the school and pointing him out for Anzorov, who was shot and killed by police, in exchange for promises of 300-350 euros ($350-400).

In emotional testimony, the teenagers protested that they did not know that Paty would be killed. They face prison sentences of up to two and a half years.

The court found the sixth defendant guilty of false accusations and slanderous comments after it was established that she told her parents that Paty had asked Muslim students to exit the classroom before showing the cartoons. The court established that she was not in class on that day.

The trial, which has been held behind closed doors and with media outlets barred from sharing the identity of the teenagers due to French laws regarding minors, has underscored contention in French society over topics such as “extremism”, Islamophobia, and freedom of expression.

The ruling comes several weeks after a teacher was fatally stabbed in northern France in a school attack by a young man.

Muslims and migrants from the Arab world say they face widespread discrimination and racism in French society, and that French traditions of keeping religion out of public spaces have been wielded selectively to crack down on expressions of Muslim identity.

Politicians in France, especially on the right, have frequently leaned into rhetoric that portrays Muslims and Arabs as violent and uncivilised.


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies