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‘To live together peacefully in today’s Europe, we must use the rule of law to fight hate and protect fundamental freedoms’

“The horrendous murder of French teacher Samuel Paty on the outskirts of Paris, currently investigated as an act of terrorism, is not only an abominable crime, but also an attack against freedom of expression and peaceful living together, in France and the whole of Europe”, said Momodou Malcolm Jallow (Sweden, UEL), General Rapporteur on Combating Racism and Intolerance of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

“I join the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly and other officials in condemning this heinous act and expressing my deepest sympathy and solidarity with the victim’s family and the French people. I would also like to express my support to teachers and education staff everywhere. Schools are the place where children learn both how to gain knowledge and how to evaluate information critically. The teaching of history, including recent history, plays an important role, offering opportunities to reflect on the past and its influence on the present. Schools should be a safe place for students and teachers alike, and teachers should never have to fear teaching”, he added.

“The deadly attack of 16 October shows that hate speech on social media, targeting a teacher who had exercised his freedom of expression in his profession, could lead to horrendous acts, including the murder of a person. The Assembly has already urged member States to combat this scourge in its Resolution 2144 (2017) on Ending cyberdiscrimination and online hate; this call is now more urgent than ever.

As the French authorities prepare to react with determination to such an extraordinary threat, it is our duty to recall that the fight against terrorism should be carried out within the boundaries of a sound rule of law and of international human rights standards. This also means that the reaction should be proportionate and should not serve to heighten tensions: fighting crime is absolutely necessary, for the safety and security of all, but it must not be used to drive a wedge between citizens.

We should support all calls for unity, remembering the words of Jo Cox: there is far more that unites us than divides us. Unity also implies that measures taken to counter terrorism should never target or blame a group, in this case the Muslim community, for the faults of individuals belonging to it. This attitude is stigmatising, may trigger an increase in Islamophobia or other forms of intolerance, and would indeed divide a nation just when it needs to join forces against the threat of terrorism”, Mr Jallow concluded.