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France marks 1 year since Samuel Paty killing

October 16, 2021

France is paying tribute to the late teacher Samuel Paty on the anniversary of his death. He was murdered by a Chechen extremist after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on free speech.

A memorial with a sign that reads "Je Suis Samuel" on year ago in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, the Paris suburb where Samuel Paty taught history and geography prior to his death.
Paty's killing stunned France and French educators, who have long emphasized the nation's officially secular valuesImage: Hans Lucas/Imago Images

French leaders are holding a day of commemoration in Paris on Saturday to memorialize Samuel Paty, the schoolteacher who was killed one year ago after a lesson he taught on free speech included highlighting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The French government unveiled a plaque at the Education Ministry in Paty's honor, and in the evening a a square opposite the Sorbonne University in the capital's Latin Quarter will be renamed  after Paty in a ceremony that the Paris mayor's office has described as "simple and contemplative."

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said, "Here is a man who wanted to do his job, a demanding and sometimes thankless job, a man who only aspired to transmit the values of freedom, secularism, tolerance, free will."

The family planned to meet with President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace on Saturday. 

Other commemorations are expected to take place in the quiet suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, where Paty taught history and geography, and near his home. A mural and a statue will commemorate Paty in these locations.

Who was Samuel Paty?

The 47-year-old teacher was stabbed and then beheaded on the evening of October 16, 2020 by Abdullakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old with Russian-Chechen roots, after leaving the middle school where he taught. Anzorov, who was later shot dead by French security services, claimed the attack was revenge.

Paty's lesson on free speech had upset some parents and set off an online firestorm, which snowballed into a debate characterized by rumors and disinformation that often distorted the nature of the lesson.

His death stunned France and French educators, who have long emphasized France's officially secular values. Tens of thousands joined nationwide rallies in support of free speech, including the freedom to blaspheme.

President Macron, however, sparked a backlash in some Muslim countries — including Libya, Tunisia and Turkey— when he declared the country "will not give up cartoons."

The investigation into Paty's death remains open.

What other actions have been taken to remember Paty?

On Friday, schools paused for a minute of silence to remember Paty. Teachers dedicated their lessons to his memory.

French teachers in danger

Schools in at least three French towns have been named after Paty, including a school in the diverse eastern Paris suburb of Valenton.

"We will not forget Samuel Paty," said Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer on a visit to a high school in Paris on Friday.

ar/sri (AFP, dpa)