The trial of the perpetrators of the 2016 Brussels terrorist attacks has begun and it is currently being discussed is whether the defendants will be placed in glass cages during the trial.
Their lawyers have described the measure as 'humiliating', with a final decision on the matter to be made on Friday. Monday's preliminary hearing set out technical formalities for the proceedings, due to start properly next month.
Several defence lawyers stated that they would not defend their clients under these conditions, which they consider to be degrading.
Sebastien Courtoy, the lawyer for Smail Farisi who sublet his flat to the terrorists, was particularly vocal in his criticism: "There will be no trial if the boxes remain. They will remain empty and some lawyers will withdraw," he told De Standaard.
One of the accused, Sofien Ayeri, has already been sentenced to 30 years in prison for his involvement in the Paris November 2015 attacks. Ayeri refused to use his microphone in response to questions and banged his fists on his glass wall.
Isa Gultusar, Ayari's lawyer, stressed that Ayari had behaved with dignity during the trial in Paris, without the need for glass cages.
Another of the accused – Salah Abdeslam – left the room "out of solidarity with the others," adding that "no fair trial can be conducted this way." His lawyer Delphine Paci said that Abdeslam "isn't a tiger waiting to pounce on everyone."
It is "a Belgian joke', said Jonathan De Taeye, the lawyer of Ali El Haddad Asufi, comparing the cages to a zoo.
Less of an issue for the prosecution
Two of the prosecutors, Paule Somers and Bernard Michel pointed out that there is nothing illegal about the glass cages, which are necessary for security purposes and have been used in other cases, such as the trial of Marc Dutroux. However, the rights of the defendants must be respected and they must be able to communicate freely with their lawyer.
In this case, the defendants are considered dangerous – the prosecution stressed that they are on trial for the murder of 32 innocent people.
Maryse Alié, a lawyer of the victim organisation Life4Brussels, warned that the defence should be careful with terms like 'torture' and 'inhumanity'.
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"Don't forget that the defendants have been living in a cage for six years and can't get out," said Adrien Masset, of the victims' organisation V-Europe, who stressed that the defendants received terms of long imprisonment in Paris and therefore have nothing to lose.
"Some of my clients are afraid that the defendants would like to die as martyrs here in the Chamber."