By Rafael Cañas
Paris, Oct 18 (efe-epa).- Thousands of French people rallied on Sunday to defend freedom of speech after the beheading of a teacher who had shown cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils.
Many protested under the slogan “Je suis prof” (I am a teacher) in a display of solidarity with Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old secondary school history and geography teacher who was killed by a knifeman on Friday.
It echoed the cry of “Je suis Charlie” which was taken up in the country after a terror attack in 2015 on the headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for printing the caricatures.
Anti-racist and pacificist groups joined a demonstration on the Place de la Republique in central Paris.
Several teachers attended the event defending the importance of their profession and the need to install democratic values in children and young people.
“I came to pay tribute to a colleague,” an unnamed teacher said.
“I will continue to teach my program. I am not afraid,” another declared.
Many demonstrators carried Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
“It’s a very firm act. We have to show that we are not afraid,” another anonymous activist said.
A minute’s silence was held at the event in Paris to honor Paty before the crowd of thousands broke out in France’s national anthem La Marseillaise.
Political leaders including Prime Minister Jean Castex also took part in the rally in a private capacity along with a number of Muslim people who denounced what one of them described as “Islamic barbarism”.
Demonstrations were also held in other cities across the country, including Marseilles, Lyon and Lille.
French President Emmanuel Macron was due to lead a defense council meeting later on Sunday to discuss new measures against extremist Islamic terrorism.
Interior minister Gérald Darmanin announced that he has ordered the deportation of 231 illegal foreigner nationals in France with a history of Islamist radicalization, of which 180 are in prison.
Paty was murdered near the College du Bois d’Aulne where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, about 30 kilometers from Paris, shortly before 5pm on Friday.
The suspected attacker was an 18-year-old refugee born in Moscow of Chechen origin who was not known to the country’s intelligence services.
Police investigating the attack have arrested 11 people, including the suspect’s friends, family and the father of a Muslim student at the school.
The father has been detained along with Islamist propagandist Abdelhakim Sefraoui on suspicion of launching an online campaign against Paty after he showed the satirical cartoons to his students during a class on civil education.
The student’s parent complained on social media, posting several videos in the following days in which he identified the teacher, gave his telephone number and the address of the school where he worked.