Samuel Paty’s death sparked protests in France
A French schoolgirl has admitted to spreading false claims about a teacher before he was murdered last year.
Samuel Paty was beheaded in October after showing students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
The girl, whose complaints sparked an online campaign against Paty, has now admitted that she was not in the class.
Mr Paty’s killing stunned France and led to an outpouring of support at memorial ceremonies and marches around the country.
The 13-year-old girl, who has not been officially named, originally told her father that Paty had asked Muslim students to leave the classroom while he showed the cartoon during a class on free speech and blasphemy.
“She lied because she felt trapped in a spiral because her classmates had asked her to be a spokesperson,” her lawyer, Mbeko Tabula, told AFP news agency.
The girl’s father filed a legal complaint against the teacher and began a social media campaign over the incident based on his daughter’s account. He identified Paty and the school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, west of Paris.
Prosecutors said shortly after the killing that there was a “direct causal link” between the online incitement against Paty and his murder.
The perpetrator, 18-year-old Abdullakh Anzorov, was shot dead by police shortly after the attack.
It then emerged that the campaign against the history and geography teacher had been based on a distorted account of what had happened in class.
As he had done in similar lessons on free speech in previous years, Paty warned students that he was about to show a depiction of Muhammad and said those who thought they might be offended could leave the room. The girl did not attend that class.
The school supported Paty’s approach when confronted with the campaign to have him sacked in the lead-up to the murder.
President Emmanuel Macron later presented the teacher’s family with the nation’s highest honour, the Légion d’honneur.
Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are widely regarded as taboo in Islam, and are considered highly offensive by Muslims.
The issue is particularly sensitive in France because of the decision by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to publish cartoons of the Prophet.
Twelve people were killed by Islamist extremists at the magazine’s offices in 2015 after the images were published.
Both the Charlie Hebdo murders and Samuel Paty’s beheading struck a deep chord in a country where secularism – or laïcité – is central to national identity.
Under that principle, the state cannot intervene in matters of religion, and thus should not curb expression to protect the feelings of a particular community.