Thousands have attended rallies across France in support of Samuel Paty, the teacher beheaded after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils.
Tens of thousands of people have rallied in solidarity, in dozens of towns and cities across France, after a secondary schoolteacher was beheaded in an attack that has shocked a country already shaken by terrorist atrocities.
Demonstrators gathered on Sunday in cities including Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nantes, Marseille, Lille and Bordeaux in support of free speech and in tribute to Samuel Paty, who was killed outside his school on Friday after discussing caricatures of the prophet Muhammad with his class.
Leading politicians, civil rights associations and teachers’ unions rallied on the Place de la République in Paris holding placards proclaiming “Je suis Samuel”, an echo of the “Je suis Charlie” slogan following the 2015 attack in which Islamist gunmen killed 12 people at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Others held placards aloft declaring “No to totalitarianism of thought”, “I am a teacher” and “Schools in mourning”. Between bursts of applause, others chanted “Freedom of expression, freedom to teach” or sang La Marseillaise.
“We are the result of our history: these values of liberty, secularism and democracy cannot remain just words,” one demonstrator in Paris told French television. “We have to keep them alive, and being here helps do that.”
Many teachers said the killing came amid a climate of growing suspicion and criticism of teachers, with parents particularly willing to intervene. “We have to be allowed to do our jobs,” one teacher told Le Monde. “It cannot be allowed come to this – that I now know I might end up being killed for teaching,” said another.
Before the rallies, the education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer called on “everyone to support our teachers”, saying “solidarity and unity” was vital. State interior secretary, Marlène Schiappa, said she was attending the Paris rally “for teachers, secularism and freedom of expression, and against Islamism”.
Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Lyon mosque and a senior Muslim figure, said Paty had merely been “doing his job” and was “respectful” in doing so. “These terrorists are not religious but are using religion to take power,” Kabtane told Agence France-Presse.