French history teacher Samuel Paty shared caricatures of Muhammad published by Charlie Hebdo during a class on free expression. Two weeks later, after controversy, he was beheaded.
On the afternoon of October 16, 2020, 47-year-old French history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in a suburb of Paris. In a social media post shortly after the murder, the attacker, an 18-year-old Chechen refugee, posted a photograph of Samuel's severed head to social media along with a claim of responsibility for the attack. On the same day, French police shot the murderer dead.
France's Education Minister said Samuel was killed for teaching students about freedom of expression. The apparent motivation for the attack was a lesson in which Samuel discussed the Charlie Hebdo with his students. As part of this lesson, he showed the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that motivated the attack on the magazine. The display of these caricatures would go on to motivate Samuel's own murder; French President Emmanuel Macron called it "an Islamist terrorist attack."
"I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down." - attacker's social media post
In the aftermath of the killing, reports circulated that Samuel had asked Muslim students to leave the classroom, as he did not want to offend them by showing them depictions of the Prophet. Months later, the student who originally made this claim confessed that it was untrue and she was not present that day. This was apparently a "distorted account" of what had really transpired: Samuel indeed warned his students he was about to show the images, but said anyone who might be offended could close their eyes.
The aforementioned student told her father the untrue account of what happened, claiming she had been suspended from school when she spoke up against Samuel's conduct. In fact, her suspension had been for repeated absences, given to her a day before the lesson, and it was the reason she was not present. Her father spearheaded a social media campaign against Samuel on the basis of his daughter's allegations.
As a result of this campaign, the school at which Samuel taught received multiple threatening phone calls. The outrage spread by the campaign eventually reached Samuel's killer, who was not a student of his but nevertheless tracked him down. Eleven people were arrested in connection with the murder, including the father who fanned the flames of accusation against Samuel and several members of the attacker's family.
Samuel left behind a 5-year-old son. Following the murder, large demonstrations arose around France expressing condemnation and solidarity.