In a closed-door juvenile court in Paris, six teenagers went on trial on Monday for their alleged involvement in the 2020 beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, marking the first of two trials in a case that shocked France.
The suspects, covering their faces with coats, faced charges related to the murder of the 47-year-old history and geography teacher near his secondary school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb of Paris.
The assailant, 18-year-old Chechen refugee Abdoullakh Anzorov, was shot dead by police at the scene. Anzorov, a radicalized Islamist, targeted Paty following the circulation of messages on social media claiming that the teacher had shown cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in his class.
Paty had used the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as part of an ethics class to explore free speech laws in France, where blasphemy is legal and cartoons mocking religious figures have a historical precedent. The beheading occurred shortly after Charlie Hebdo republished the cartoons, recalling the 2015 attack on the magazine’s office by Islamic gunmen that resulted in the death of 12 people.
Five of the adolescents on trial, aged 14 or 15 at the time of the murder, face charges of criminal conspiracy with intent to cause violence. They are accused of surveilling Paty and identifying him to the assailant in exchange for money. The sixth teenager, who was 13 at the time, is charged with making false allegations for falsely claiming that Paty had asked Muslim students to identify themselves and leave the classroom before showing the cartoons.
The trial is considered crucial by Paty’s family, who view the role of the minors as fundamental in the events leading to his assassination. The teenagers, now high school pupils, testified during questioning that they thought Paty would, at most, be “flagged up on social media,” “humiliated,” or perhaps “roughed up,” but they never anticipated the situation escalating to murder. If convicted, they face up to two-and-a-half years in prison.
The trial is scheduled to continue until December 8, while a separate trial involving eight adults implicated in the case is set for late 2024.