Controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed were projected onto public buildings in two French cities on Wednesday night, as the country paid tribute to Samuel Paty, the Parisian school teacher slain by an Islamist extremist for using the images in a lesson on freedom of speech.
The cartoons from six Charlie Hebdo covers, including the Islamic prophet and other religious figures, were displayed on local government buildings in Montpellier and Toulouse in the southern region of Occitanie, along with a portrait of Paty.
The images included the famous cartoon of Mohammed holding a sign reading “All is forgiven,” originally published in the aftermath of the 2015 terror attack on the satirical newspaper’s officers, and another featuring three rolls of toilet paper labelled the Bible, Koran and Torah.
The tribute in Occitanie took place as President Emmanuel Macron led a nationally televised memorial service to Paty in Paris’s Sorbonne university, in which the murdered teacher was posthumously awarded France’s highest honour, the Legion d’Honneur.
“He was killed precisely because he incarnated the Republic,” Macron said, denouncing those who targeted Paty as “cowards.”
“He was killed because the Islamists want our future. They know that with quiet heroes like him, they will never have it.”
Paty, a 47-year-old history teacher, was beheaded in broad daylight outside his school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in the northern suburbs of Paris on Friday, unleashing a national outpouring of solidarity and renewed pledges from the government to crack down on radical Islam.
His killer, a Chechnya-born 18-year-old named Abdullakh Anzorov, tweeted a photo of Paty’s severed head along with a message saying he was avenging the denigration of the Prophet Mohammed. He was then shot dead by police at the scene.
The assassination followed a hate campaign against Paty on social media, triggered by the Muslim father of one of his students who was angered by his use of the cartoons of Mohammed, which he considered blasphemous.
Hours before the Sorbonne memorial service, anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said that two teenagers, aged 14 and 15, had been charged with complicity in terrorist murder for helping Anzorov identify Paty. Ricard said the pair had been in a group of pupils who had shared a reward of about €300 to help the killer find the teacher, waiting for him for more than two hours even after they learned of his intentions to attack him over the cartoons.
Five others have been charged, four of them for complicity in terrorist murder, including the father of the student who instigated the social media campaign, and a radical Islamist who helped him. Three friends of Anzorov’s who allegedly helped him have also been charged, one of them with the lesser charge of associating with a terrorist.
In the wake of the killing — the second knife attack in France in the name of avenging the Prophet Mohammed since Charlie Hebdo republished the controversial cartoons last month — the French government has vowed to ramp up its efforts to crack down on radical Islam. Alongside the investigation into the murder, it’s vowed to disband Islamist NGOs, and has ordered the six-month closure of a mosque outside Paris that had shared Facebook videos calling for action against Paty, including his school’s address.
The hardline response has also resulted in Islamophobic threats to French Muslims; mosques in Bordeaux and Beziers have been placed under police protection after reporting threats. The public display of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons was also celebrated by the anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders yesterday, who called for the cartoons to be projected on to the Dutch House of Representatives in solidarity.