Tens of thousands of people rallied across Paris and in other parts of France in protest against the beheading of a teacher for showing students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, AFP reported. Demonstrators on the Place de la Republique held aloft posters declaring: “No to totalitarianism of thought” and “I am a teacher” in memory of the murdered Samuel Paty.
Prime Minister Jean Castex joined the protest in Paris. “You do not scare us. We are not afraid. You will not divide us. We are France!” he tweeted. Castex was joined by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and junior Interior Minister Marlene Schiappa. Politicians from Opposition parties also attended the demonstration.
Some of the protestors chanted “I am Samuel”, echoing the “I am Charlie” from years ago following the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Others chanted “Freedom of expression, freedom to teach.”
Around 12,000 people rallied in Lyon in eastern France, and 5,000 in Toulouse. Hundreds more assembled in Nice on the south coast. “Everyone is in danger today,” said student Valentine Mule, 18, attending the Nice rally. “Things have to change.”
There were protest marches in Strasbourg, in Lille in the north, and in the southern cities of Marseille and Montpellier.
French anti-terror prosecutors said the assault took place on the outskirts of Paris near a school in the western suburb of Conflans Saint-Honorine. They said they were treating the incident as “a murder linked to a terrorist organisation” and related to a “criminal association with terrorists”.
The assailant was gunned down about 600 meters from where the teacher was killed after he did not follow police orders to put down his knife and behaved in a threatening manner, the police said.
The teacher had received threats over “a debate” about the caricatures around 10 days ago, the police said. A parent of one of his pupils had filed a complaint against the teacher, another police official said, adding that the suspected killer, whose identity remains unknown, did not have a child at the school.
French President Emmanuel Macron called the incident an “Islamist attack”, urging citizens to stand up against extremism. “One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught ... the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe,” he said.
The French government, meanwhile, is working on a bill to address Islamist radicalism in the country with the highest Muslim population in Western Europe.
This was the second terrorism-related incident in France in the past month. The incidents have occurred amid an ongoing trial of fourteen people in the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack. The trial began on September 2. Twelve people, including eight uriof the magazine, were killed on January 7, 2015, when brothers Said and Cherie Kouachi stormed Charlie Hebdo’s Paris headquarters. As the trial reopened, the magazine reprinted the Prophet Mohammed cartoons that had sparked an outrage and led to the 2015 attack.
The school said Paty had given Muslim children the option of leaving the classroom before he showed the cartoons. Ministers in France’s defence council on Sunday decided to increase security at schools, and to take action against anyone expressing support for the attack. A national tribute will be held for Paty on Wednesday.