Six teenagers go on trial on Monday in Paris for their alleged roles in the beheading of a teacher who showed caricatures of the prophet of Islam to his class – a killing that led authorities to reaffirm France’s cherished rights of expression and secularism.
Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher, was killed on 16 October 2020, near his school in a northwest Paris suburb by an 18-year-old of Chechen origin who had become radicalised. The attacker was in turn shot dead by police.
Paty’s name was disclosed on social media after a class debate on free expression during which he showed caricatures published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which triggered a newsroom massacre by extremists in January 2015.
All the hearings at a Paris juvenile court are to be held without media, in accordance with French law regarding minors.
Among those going on trial, a teenage girl, who was 13 at the time, is accused of making false allegations for wrongly saying that Mr Paty had asked Muslim students to raise their hands and leave the classroom before he showed the cartoons. She later told investigators she had lied. She was not in the classroom that day and Mr Paty did not make such a request, the investigation has shown.
Five other students at Mr Paty’s school, then 14 and 15, are facing charges of criminal conspiracy with the aim of preparing aggravated violence to be committed.
They are accused of having waited for him for several hours until he left the school and of having identified him to the killer in exchange for promises of payments of €300-€350 (£260-£300).
The investigation established that the attacker knew the name of the teacher and the address of his school, but he did not have the means to identify him.
All six teenagers are facing up to two and a half years in prison if found guilty. The trial is scheduled to end on 8 December.
Eight other adults are to be sent to trial at a later date. They include the father of the teenage girl charged with false allegations. At the time, he had posted videos on social media that called for mobilisation against the teacher.
A radical Islamic activist who helped him disseminate the virulent messages naming Mr Paty has also been charged.
The trial comes six weeks after a teacher was fatally stabbed and three other people injured in a school attack carried out by a former student suspected of Islamic radicalisation. The killing, in a context of global tensions over the Israel-Hamas war, led French authorities to deploy 7,000 additional soldiers across the country to bolster security and vigilance.