Students pay tribute to beheaded French teacher who feared for his safety after teaching a lesson about freedom of expression

paris
People hold a sign reading 'I am a teacher - Freedom of speech' in front of a middle school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 30kms northwest of Paris, on October 17, 2020.
  • The French teacher who was beheaded by an 18-year-old man on Friday after teaching his pupils about freedom of speech has been identified as Samuel Paty. 
  • Paty had shown his pupils a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad while discussing the Charlie Hebdo case in a lesson that was part of an obligatory "moral and civil education" course.
  • Tributes have been pouring in for Paty, who has been described by his students as someone who "loved his job."
  • The incident, which occurred in the northwestern Parisian suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, has shocked the country and prompted the hashtag #JeSuisSamuel to go viral on social media.
  • The lesson prompted several Muslim parents to issue complaints to the school and Paty to receive a number of unspecified threats had him "concerned for his safety."
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Tributes have been pouring in for the French teacher who was beheaded on Friday afternoon after teaching his pupils about freedom of speech and showing them controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old history teacher at College du Bois d'Aulne, was attacked in the northwestern Parisian suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday afternoon by an 18-year-old man who was later shot dead by police.

The brutal attack has shocked the country as the hashtag #JeSuisSamuel (I am Samuel) began trending on social media, similar to the #JeSuisCharlie movement that went viral after the 2015 attack on the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. 

Earlier this month, Paty had shown his pupils a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad while discussing the Hebdo case in a lesson that was part of an obligatory "moral and civil education" course that all primary and secondary French schools have in their curriculum.

He gave Muslim students the opportunity to leave the classroom if they thought they might be offended, according to multiple media reports.

 

The history teacher's lesson however, sparked complaints from several Muslim parents. One family lodged a legal complaint while the father of a 13-year-old girl who chose not to leave the class posted a YouTube video complaining about the teacher.

In the video, the father said that Paty had shown a "photo of a naked man" claiming he was the "Muslim prophet," according to the Guardian. He also called Paty a "voyou" (thug) and asked other parents to join him in collective action against the teacher.

The video has since been removed.

Paty had received several unspecified threats in the days following the lesson. He had been "concerned for his safety," another teacher at the school said, according to The Sun.

Heartbroken colleagues and students laid white roses in front of the school on Saturday to pay tribute to the teacher, described as someone who "really loved his job."

Some teachers at the school were holding signs reading "Je Suis Enseignant" ("I am a teacher").

One of Paty's former students, Martial, 16, said Paty "really wanted to teach us things — sometimes we had debates," according to the BBC.

"When I saw 'teacher — Bois d'Aulne — beheading', I made the direct link: 'it's Mr. Paty'," said the 16-year-old who had run to school from his soccer training on Friday after he heard about the attack, according to the Huffington Post

Another former student, Nathan, described Paty as being a "small" man who had short brown hair and glasses and "always had a nice shirt," the Huffington Post reported.

Parents also took to social media to pay their respects. One father wrote on Twitter that his daughter "is in pieces, terrorized by the violence of such an act. How will I explain to her the unthinkable?" the BBC reported.

Politicians have also condemned the brutal attack, with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer saying on Saturday that France would "never back down when confronted by terror, intimidation," according to the BBC.

President Macron, who went to the scene on Friday night, told reporters that Paty had been a "victim of an Islamist terrorist attack" because he "taught the freedom of expression, of believing and not believing," according to Sky News.

Muslim leaders in the country have also come forward to condemn the attack. "A civilization does not kill an innocent person, barbarism does," Tareq Oubrou, imam of a mosque in Bordeaux, said, according to the BBC.

A national tribute will be held for the teacher, the French presidency has said. 

Nine people have been arrested, including the suspect's grandfather, his 17-year-old brother, and the parents of a child at Paty's school.

Police say the suspect was an 18-year-old man who was born in Moscow and was of Chechen origin. He had a petty criminal record and was not known to the country's intelligence service.

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