Few months ago, the European Court of human rights confirmed the admissibility of a complaint made by Babar Ahmad, Haroon Rashid Aswat and Syed Talha Ahsan. Their extradition to the US was prevented since the stringency of the conditions at ADX Florence (a “supermax” prison) for what might be the rest of their lives, inhumane or degrading treatment. The plight of Bradley Manning, the alleged wikileaks “leaker”, has also shed light upon the infamous treatment of detainees placed in solitary confinement in US custody.
Many international instruments have affirmed that prisoners have the right to be dealt with in a way compatible with human dignity and that they should be safe from any form of degrading treatment. The UN Human Rights Committee, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the European Commission on Human rights have stated that isolation, in certain conditions, can constitute a cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. Different factors need to be taken into account such as the stringency of the measure, its duration, the objective pursued and the effects it has on the person. We sometimes stay focused on the American carceral system due to its reputation. However, a text written by Djamel Beghal in the darkness of his cell shows us the ignominy of solitary confinement in French prisons.
Djamel Beghal has spent nine years under this regime. He has been transferred from cell to cell, from prison to prison, always living under the same harsh conditions. His account is shameful and horrendous.
Djamel spends 22 or 23 hours alone in his cell. He is allowed a recreation time in a minuscule space, always alone and indoors. He can never see another inmate. When he is displaced for any reason, the floor or the whole prison is blocked. Only the senior guard is permitted to talk to him or even to open the door of his cell. The shower and the recreational space are situated just in front of his dungeon and going there allows no more than five steps across the corridor. He is taken there by three to five guards.
The vastest room in which Djamel was incarcerated barely reached 9 meters square. He measured one of his cells in a Parisian prison with a small ruler. Result: 5 meters square. His cell is composed of an iron bed with an uncomfortable fireproof mattress. Bed sheets are torn and blankets have a strong and unpleasant smell, giving rise to skin allergies. Every single furniture is fixed in the wall. The table is as high as his chest. Even eating or writing becomes a painful exercise. Read the rest of this entry »