Brussels attacks trial: Defendants sue Belgian State over conditions of transport to court

Brussels attacks trial: Defendants sue Belgian State over conditions of transport to court
Credit: Belga/Pool Benoit Doppagne

Those currently on trial for their role in the 22 March 2016 terror attacks in Brussels have sued the Belgian State – in particular Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne and Interior Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden – over the conditions in which they are transferred from their prison cells to the court building every day.

Since the start of the trial, the six accused men (Mohamed Abrini, Sofien Ayari, Salah Abdeslam, Bilal El Makhouki, Ali El Haddad Asufi and Hervé Bayingana Muhirwa) have been complaining about the conditions in which they are transferred daily from prison to the courthouse in the Brussels district of Haren, De Morgen reports.

Specifically, the regular strip searches they have to undergo, as well as the blindfolds and headphones with loud music they have to put on while being transported have been given as the reasons for the lawsuit, Belga News Agency reports.

In recent days, the accused men have also invariably left their much-discussed "glass boxes" in the courtroom in protest against their treatment. Consultations between the various stakeholders, including the accused's lawyers and the federal police, have reportedly already taken place, but these apparently did not lead to an acceptable solution.

€5,000 penalties

However, the president of the court has no say in what happens outside the courtroom, which is why the six accused have now sued Van Quickenborne in summary proceedings. Their lawyers demand an end to strip searches and the use of blindfolds if no specific justification is given beforehand. For each breach, they demand a penalty of €5,000.

A first hearing will reportedly take place next Monday (19 December) and the lawyers ask that their clients attend. In which court building the hearing will take place is not yet clear.

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In the meantime, the trial on the terror attacks will continue as normal, according to press magistrate Luc Hennart. The accused are under arrest and are therefore obliged to come to court (or stay in the cell if the police judge that the transfer cannot go ahead). Their lawyers, however, will have to reorganise so they can attend both trials, which they will have to do by sending an assistant, for example.

"The judge in summary proceedings will determine on Monday whether the case is ready to be heard," Hennart told VRT.

"Possibly, the Belgian State's lawyer will ask for them not to be heard until later. If the accused want to be present, the court can schedule the case at a time when there is no session already happening."

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