United Kingdom

France to create new social media offence following beheading of teacher 

The French government said on Tuesday it planned to create a new offence of endangering people by publishing their personal details on social media, following the beheading of a teacher.

The announcement came as the authorities ordered the closure of a Paris mosque that posted a video criticising the teacher for discussing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech.

Social media played a pivotal role in inciting the murder of Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old history teacher, according to sources close to the investigation.

It emerged on Tuesday that the killer, an 18-year-old Chechen refugee, exchanged WhatsApp messages with a parent leading an online campaign to get Mr Paty fired. Brahim Chnina, whose daughter attends Mr Paty’s school, had posted videos identifying the teacher and is one of 16 people under arrest over the killing.

The video posted by the mosque attacked Mr Paty’s decision to show his class the cartoons, although he gave Muslim pupils a chance to leave if they felt uncomfortable.

Marlène Schiappa, a junior interior minister, met senior executives of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat on Tuesday to discuss ways of combating what she called “cyber-Islamism”.

Jean Castex, the prime minister, said in parliament: “We cannot reconcile ourselves to impassively witnessing outpourings of hate on social media.”

He said the government would put forward a bill to outlaw endangerment on social media and make platforms more accountable for content.

He said it would be an amended version of an earlier bill banning hate posts passed by parliament but overturned by France’s Constitutional Council in June on the grounds that it infringed free speech.

Four schoolchildren who are among 16 people being held over the killing have reportedly admitted being paid more than €300 by the killer, Abdoullakh Anzorov, to tell him where to find Mr Paty.

They said Anzorov, who was shot dead by police, told them he wanted Mr Paty to apologise for using the cartoons, one of which depicted the Prophet Muhammad naked. They said they had no idea he was planning the murder. A 14-year-old has reportedly told investigators he regrets his acts.

Anzorov is believed to have seen the videos posted by Mr Chnina before he contacted him.

Anzorov was driven by a friend from his home in Evreux, Normandy, to the Bois d’Aulne secondary school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, on the outskirts of Paris, where Mr Paty taught. The friend told investigators he had no knowledge of Anzorov’s plans.

The government of President Emmanuel Macron is clamping down on Islamist groups and several are expected to be banned.

He is under pressure to halt Islamist attacks, which have killed more than 240 people since 2015, starting with the massacre of 12 people at the office of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo after it published Muhammad cartoons.

The conservative opposition accuses Mr Macron of talking tough but failing to act decisively.

The government is to hold a national tribute to Mr Paty at the Sorbonne University in Paris on Wednesday. The teacher, who was the father of a five-year-old boy, will be posthumously given the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest award.

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