French PM pays tribute to slain teacher Samuel Paty on anniversary of his death

French Prime Minister Jean Castex paid tribute to school teacher Samuel Paty on Saturday, one year after he was beheaded by an extremist after showing his class cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed. 

French Prime Minister Jean Castex (R) and Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer pay tribute to Samuel Paty on October 16, 2021, at the French ministry of Education.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex (R) and Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer pay tribute to Samuel Paty on October 16, 2021, at the French ministry of Education. © Julien De Rosa, AFP

Paty, 47, was stabbed and then decapitated after leaving the middle school where he taught history and geography in the tranquil Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on the evening of October 16, 2020.

Paty's violent death stunned France's educators, who saw it as an attack on the core values teachers have taught generations of schoolchildren, including the separation of church and state and the right to blaspheme.

"Samuel Paty was a victim of Islamist terrorism and human cowardice. To pay tribute to Samuel Paty is to pay tribute to the Republic. Nothing could be worse than forgetting," Castex said during a tribute to Paty at the Ministry of Education, where a memorial plaque was unveiled. 

"Here was 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. For these reasons a servant of the Republic was assassinated," Castex said. 

Paty's family will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace later in the day.

Also on Saturday, a square facing the Sorbonne University in the capital's Latin Quarter will be named after Paty in a ceremony that the mayor's office said would be "simple and contemplative".

Schools in at least three towns have already been named after Paty, including in the multi-ethnic eastern Paris suburb of Valenton.

Coming in the wake of other attacks blamed on Islamist extremists, the anniversary of Paty's death has reignited debate over integration and immigration in France's officially secular society as the country heads to 2022 presidential polls.

'We will not forget'

Paty's killer, 18-year-old Chechen refugee Abdullakh Anzorov, claimed the attack was revenge for Paty having shown his class the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed printed in the virulently anti-religion magazine Charlie Hebdo in a lesson on free speech.

The lesson infuriated some parents and set off a social media fury fraught with rumours and falsehoods about what had been taught. 

Paty's killing prompted an outpouring of emotion in France, with tens of thousands taking part in rallies countrywide in defence of free speech and the right to mock religion.

But Macron sparked a backlash when he vowed the country "will not give up cartoons", with counter-protests popping up in some Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey, Libya and Tunisia.

On Friday, schools across France commemorated the teacher with a minute of silence, debates or the screening of documentaries on the freedom of speech.

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

He had previously called the memorials "a chance to talk about the role of teachers, and of knowledge".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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