Thousands of people gathered in central Paris on Sunday to show defiant solidarity with a teacher who was beheaded for showing students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Protesters in the Place de la Republique held up placards that read: “No to totalitarianism” and “I am a teacher” in memory of the murdered colleague Samuel Paty.
“They don’t scare us. We are not afraid. They won’t part us. We are France!” tweeted Prime Minister Jean Castex, who was among those who had gathered at the historic protest site.
Castex was accompanied by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Junior Interior Minister Marlene Schiappa, who said she was there “in support of teachers, secularism and freedom of expression”.
Some in the crowd sang “I am Samuel” and repeated the shout “I am Charlie” who traveled the world after Islamist gunmen killed 12 people in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015 for publishing cartoons of the Islamic prophet.
In between applause, others recited: “Freedom of expression, freedom to teach.”
“I’m here as a teacher, as a mother, as a French and as a Republican,” said participant Virginie.
The Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015 sparked a wave of Islamist violence, forcing France to engage in a national discussion on the place of Islam in a secular society.
After the massacre in the magazine, around 1.5 million people gather at the same Place de la Republique to support freedom of expression.
“Things have to change”
According to the local authorities, around 6,000 people gathered in Lyon in eastern France on Sunday.
“The entire educational community, and society as a whole, is affected,” said teacher union representative Bernard Deswarte in Toulouse, where an estimated 5,000 people have gathered.
Hundreds more gathered in Nice on the south coast, where a man rammed a truck into a crowd on July 14, 2016, killing 86 people.
“Everyone is at risk today,” said 18-year-old student Valentine Mule, who attended the rally in Nice. “Things have to change.”
Demonstrations were also planned for other cities.
Paty was brutally murdered on the way home from the school where he was teaching in a suburb northwest of Paris on Friday afternoon.
On Saturday, anti-terrorist prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said Paty had been the target of online threats to show the cartoons to his citizen class.
Representations of the prophet are generally considered taboo in Islam.
A photo of the teacher and a message about his murder were found on the cell phone of his killer, 18-year-old Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot by police.
Witnesses said the suspect was discovered at school on Friday and asked students where he could find Paty.
The father of a school girl had launched an online appeal for “mobilization” against the teacher and requested his discharge from school.
The girl’s father and a well-known Islamic militant are among those arrested along with four members of Anzorov’s family.
An eleventh person was taken into custody on Sunday, a court source said without disclosure.
The aggrieved father had named Paty and given the school address in a social media post a few days before the beheading, which President Emmanuel Macron had described as an Islamist terrorist attack.
Ricard did not say whether the attacker had any school connections or acted independently in response to the online campaign.
The Russian embassy in Paris said Anzorov’s family came to France from Chechnya when he was six to seek asylum.
Locals in the Norman town of Evreux, where the attacker lived, described him as reluctant, saying he got into an argument as a child, but calmed down as he became increasingly religious in recent years.
Friday’s attack was the second of its kind since a trial of the Charlie Hebdo killings began last month.
The magazine republished the controversial cartoons leading up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside Charlie Hebdo’s former office.
“Do your job”
Hundreds of students, teachers, parents and well-wishers flocked to Paty’s school on Saturday to lay white roses.
“This is the first time a teacher has been attacked for what he teaches,” said a colleague from a neighboring town who only gave his first name Lionel.
According to his school, Paty had given Muslim children the opportunity to leave the classroom before showing the cartoons and said he did not want their feelings to be hurt.
And Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Lyon mosque and a high-ranking Muslim figure, told AFP on Sunday that Paty was merely “doing his job” and being “respectful” in the process.
The ministers who make up the French Defense Council were due to meet later on Sunday to discuss the Islamist threat.
On Wednesday there will be a national honor for Paty.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)