PARIS — Six teenagers went on trial Monday in Paris for their alleged role in the beheading of a teacher who showed caricatures of Islam’s prophet to his class, a murder that led authorities to reaffirm the rights of expression and secularism dear to France.
Samuel Paty, history and geography teacher, was killed on October 16, 2020, near his school, in the northwest suburbs of Paris, by a radicalized 18-year-old young man of Chechen origin. The attacker was in turn shot dead by the police.
Paty’s name was leaked on social media after a class debate on freedom of expression in which he showed caricatures published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which sparked an editorial massacre by extremists in January 2015.
All hearings at the Paris Children’s Court must take place behind closed doors in accordance with French law relating to minors.
The defendants arrived at the Paris court on Monday morning, their faces hidden behind masks and hoods, accompanied by their families. Media are not permitted to disclose their identities.
Among those tried, a teenager, aged 13 at the time, is accused of making false allegations by falsely claiming that Paty had asked Muslim students to raise their hands and leave the class before showing the caricatures. She later told investigators she had lied. She was not present in class that day and Paty did not make such a request, the investigation showed.
Five other students from the Paty school, then aged 14 and 15, face accusations of criminal conspiracy with the aim of preparing the commission of aggravated violence.
They are accused of having waited for Paty for several hours until he left school and of having identified him to the killer in exchange for promises of payments of 300 to 350 euros ($348 to $406).
The investigation established that the attacker knew the name of the teacher and the address of his school, but did not have the means to identify him.
The lawyer for one of the defendants, Antoine Ory, said his client was “tormented with remorse and very frightened by the confrontation with Mr. Paty’s family.” He added that the teenager “was clearly unaware of the criminal plan” of the killer, Abdoullakh Anzorov, a Moscow-born Chechen refugee.
Ory said his client has since had a “difficult” time, changed schools and friends and now sees the trial as an opportunity to move on.
The six teenagers both face 2 and a half years in prison. The trial is expected to end on December 8.
Louis Cailliez, the lawyer for Paty’s sister, Mickaëlle, said he wanted to “understand the real causes” that pushed the students to commit something irreparable. He pointed out “the fatal combination of small cowardices, big lies, slander, arrangements, complicity and aid without which Samuel Paty would still be alive”.