French court convicts six teens for role in beheading of teacher

By AFP   December 8, 2023 | 11:32 pm PT
French court convicts six teens for role in beheading of teacher
Family members and colleagues hold a photo of teacher Samuel Paty in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, Paris, October 2020. Photo by AFP
A French court on Friday convicted six teenagers for their role in the 2020 beheading of a teacher by a radicalised Islamist near Paris, in a case that horrified the country.

The prison sentences range from 14 months to two years, but all are suspended or commuted and no defendant will serve jail time, according to a youth court judgement read at a public hearing after behind-closed-door proceedings.

Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old history and geography teacher, was stabbed and then beheaded near his secondary school in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on October 16, 2020.

Lawyers representing Paty's friends and family hit out at the leniency of the sentences, describing them as "not fitting" and sending "a bad signal".

"A man beheaded in the street is not nothing," said Virginie Le Roy, a lawyer representing members of Paty's family.

She described his family's "anger", "disappointment" and "incomprehension".

Paty's attacker, 18-year-old Chechen refugee Abdoullakh Anzorov, was shot dead at the scene by police.

He murdered Paty after messages spread on social media that the teacher had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

'Persistent lie'

The trial was held behind closed doors given the young ages of the defendants at the time of the events.

Five of the teens on trial, who were 14 or 15 at the time of Paty's murder, were being tried for criminal conspiracy with intent to cause violence.

They were accused of having been on the lookout for Paty and identifying him to the killer in exchange for money.

Four of them received suspended sentences of between 14 and 18 months.

The fifth was sentenced to two years in prison, but 18 months of that was suspended and the teenager will be released with an electronic tag for the remaining six months.

"You passed on to the assailant the description (of Paty's) physical appearance and clothing" and the teacher's "usual route" when leaving the school, the presiding judge told the youth.

"You recruited other students to point out" Paty to Anzorov and keep watch for when he left the school, added the judge.

A sixth teenager, a girl who was 13 at the time, was accused of false allegations for wrongly saying that Paty had asked Muslim students to identify themselves and leave the classroom before he showed the cartoons. She was not present in the class.

She received an 18-month suspended sentence.

The court pointed to the role of her "persistent lie" about Paty in the events leading to his murder.

Lawyer for the defendants Antoine Ory called the sentences "just", while admitting they could "never be equal to the infinite and eternal suffering of the civil parties".

Paty had used the Charlie Hebdo magazine as part of an ethics class to discuss free speech laws in France, where blasphemy is legal and cartoons mocking religious figures have a long history.

His killing took place just weeks after Charlie Hebdo republished the Prophet Mohammed cartoons.

After the magazine used the images in 2015, Islamist gunmen stormed its offices, killing 12 people.

In October, another teacher, Dominique Bernard, was killed in Arras in northern France by a young radicalised Islamist.

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