Six youths were tried in Paris on Monday for their roles in the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty in 2020, the first of two trials in a crime that shocked France.
Before attending the juvenile court, the suspects appeared wearing sunglasses and surgical masks and holding their jackets over their faces to conceal their identity.
Given the defendants’ ages at the time of the occurrences (13 to 15 years old), the trial is being held behind closed doors.
Only those directly affected by the case are permitted to attend the hearing. The press is barred from entering the courtroom, which is guarded by police officers, and it is forbidden to report what is said during the hearings, even by quoting lawyers.
On October 16, 2020, the 47-year-old history and geography teacher was stabbed and then beheaded near his secondary school in the Paris district of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.
Abdoullakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old Chechen refugee, was shot dead at the site by police.
Paty was murdered by a young radicalised Islamist after word circulated on social media that the instructor had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Paty used the magazine in an ethics lecture to analyze free speech legislation in France, where blasphemy is legal and drawings criticizing religious figures are common.
His murder occurred just weeks after Charlie Hebdo posted the caricatures. When the magazine originally used the images, Islamist terrorists attacked its office in 2015, killing 12 people.
Dominique Bernard, another teacher, was murdered in Arras, northern France, last month by a young radicalized Islamist.
Bernard’s accused killer, Mohammed Moguchkov, was also from Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region.
‘Role Of The Minors’
Five of the teenagers on trial were 14 or 15 at the time of Paty’s death and are charged with criminal conspiracy with intent to cause violence.
They are accused of looking for Paty and identifying him to the murderer in exchange for money.
A sixth youngster, a 13-year-old girl at the time, is accused of making false accusations after falsely claiming that Paty had asked Muslim students to identify themselves and leave the classroom before showing the drawings. She was not in the classroom.
Her head was entirely buried under the hood of her black down jacket when she entered the courtroom.
According to Louis Cailliez, a lawyer representing the Paty family, the defense team would explain the defendants’ conduct as “mistakes of youth.”
However, he stated that the trial must reveal “the true reasons why these students committed the unforgivable.”
“He is eaten up with remorse,” said one of the defendants’ lawyers, Antoine Ory, about his client. “He is terrified, very worried about coming face to face with Samuel Paty’s family.”
A trial of eight adults also implicated in the case is scheduled for late 2024.
Paty’s family see the trial of the teenagers as crucial, according to Virginie Le Roy, a lawyer representing his parents and one of his sisters.
“The role of the minors was fundamental in the sequence of events that led to his assassination,” she said.
During questioning, the teenagers swore that at most they thought Paty would be “flagged up on social media”, “humiliated” or maybe “roughed up” but they never imagined “it would go as far as murder”.
They now are high school pupils and risk two-and-a-half years in prison if convicted.
“It is complicated,” said Dylan Slama, the lawyer for one of the accused.
“He will be associated with this for the rest of his life.”
The trial is scheduled to last until December 8.