Monday, May 18, 2009

Minors law prevents the French from following the courtroom drama of the brutal 2006 kidnapping, torture, and killing of Ilan Halimi

In the two and a half weeks since 27 people went on trial [in Paris] for the brutal 2006 kidnapping, torture and killing of a young Jewish man, little has filtered out about the proceedings
writes Meg Bortin.
Despite the sensational nature of the case and the serious issues it has raised — from the rise of anti-Semitism in some sectors of French society to the way the police handled the investigation — the French are essentially unable to follow the courtroom drama because of a law that bans the public and the media from trials that involve minors. …

Missing … is a public engagement with the troubling issues that were raised by the horrifying nature of the crime, in which Ilan Halimi, 23, was kidnapped, bound in tape, hidden in sordid conditions, beaten, slashed, burned and finally thrown into the street after 24 days, only to die of his wounds before reaching a hospital.

“I find it abnormal that the trial is being held behind closed doors,” his mother, Ruth Halimi, said during a break in the trial. She said the defendants were displaying a casual attitude that she found shocking. “The trial should have been held in public,” she said, “so that everyone could know what took place.”

The law mandating that the trial be closed applies to defendants who were under 18 at the time of the crime, even if they are no longer minors. In this case, two of the accused were 17 when Mr. Halimi was kidnapped. Only they can ask that the secrecy be lifted, and they did not do so.

Lawyers on both sides of the case voiced regret.

“The culture of secrecy has no place in a democracy,” said Daphné Pugliesi, who is representing Cédric Birot Saint-Yves, who has been charged with being one of Mr. Halimi’s “jailers.” Ms. Pugliesi asserted that the aim of a criminal trial was “for society to understand the reasons why a grave crime like this one was committed.”

…As a result of the media ban, virtually nothing will be known soon about what is said by the accused — 18 men and 9 women, all French nationals aged 20 to 35 — or the 162 witnesses and 50 experts who are expected to testify before the trial is to conclude on July 10.

…When the trial began on April 29, reporters were allowed into the courtroom for a few hours — long enough to hear [Youssouf Fofana, now 28,] shout “Allah Akbar,” God is Great, and declare his date of birth as Feb. 13, 2006, the day Mr. Halimi was found dying alongside railroad tracks in a suburb south of Bagneux.

…On May 12, according to the Observateur blog, the presiding judge, Nadia Ajjan, appointed two new lawyers to represent Mr. Fofana because of the frequent absence from court of his original attorneys: Emmanuel Ludot, who helped defend Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2004, and Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, who is married to the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal and has defended several radical Islamists.

One of the issues debated since the crime took place is the police’s handling of Mr. Halimi’s kidnapping. [His mother, Ruth Halimi,] asserts in “24 Days,” a scathing book published last month, that the elite Criminal Brigade bungled the case by imposing secrecy during the kidnapping and by missing several opportunities to arrest Mr. Fofana, who made two trips to Ivory Coast while Mr. Halimi was being held.

…Mr. Halimi was kidnapped on Jan. 20, 2006, just weeks after rioting erupted across France in low-income suburbs. Many of the rioters were young people of North African or black African origin, and many were Muslim.Mrs. Halimi said the anti-Semitic aspect of her son’s kidnapping made it all the more imperative for the world to know what was said at the trial.

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