Yesterday (Wednesday), the most-watched prisoner in France, and key suspect of last November’s Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, requested that the courts suspend the permanent video surveillance system in his cell. He says that this infringes his fundamental rights. The court’s decision is expected on Friday.
The only living jihadist from the November 13th attacks, Abdeslam is being held in solitary confinement in a cell which is specially equipped in Fleury-Mérogis, in the Paris region. It is the largest prison in Europe. He is subject to the permanent surveillance of half a dozen cameras.
This mechanism was authorized by a government decree, but he is contesting its legality.
When the hearing before the Administrative Court in Versailles opened, his lawyer Frank Berton stated that Salah Abdeslam “intends to request the application of a given right, (…) that is the respect for his private life” and “that this so-called ‘video protection’ ceases.”
He went further, “he has no private life – he has become a public figure.” He requested that the court “puts an end to this manifestly serious and illegal infringement of his private life.”
This placing under surveillance, decided on June 17th for a 3-month duration, was made possible by a ministerial decree. This authorises such a mechanism to guard against escape or suicide.
Either could, of course, “have a significant impact on the public order” of prisoners placed in solitary confinement.
The Defence state that this decree is illegal under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights – the right to respect for private life. Under the Convention such steps should be part of a given jurisdiction’s statutory legal framework, not merely achieved by a decree.
Besides, the measure only “strengthens the risk of suicide which it is intended to reduce, by making the prisoner psychologically fragile,” the Defence confirms, quoting the International Observatory of Prisons (IOP).
His lawyer took this aspect of the case to court after at the end of June when a deputy visited Fleury-Mérogis. The deputy had access to the video surveillance room for Abdeslam. He described what he had seen in the newspapers; everything from the prisoner brushing his teeth to praying.
As indicated, the court’s decision is expected on Friday. Yesterday (Wednesday) the French Minister of Justice, Jean-Jacques Urvoas, said he was ready to put forward a bill to provide “sufficient legal basis” for prison video surveillance if the courts ordered the lifting of the mechanism for Abdeslam’s cell.