On July 13, 2009, French Minister of Justice Michèle Alliot-Marie asked the Parquet (a panel of magistrates under her authority, authorized to request penal sanctions in defence of the general welfare) to appeal 14 of the 25 sentences pronounced on July 10 against members of the Gang of Barbarian on trial for the anti-Semitic murder of Ilan Halimi. Those 14 sentences are lighter than the sanctions recommended by the Avocat general [roughly equivalent to the state’s attorney or public prosecutor].
On July 17, the Parquet announced it had appealed sentences for four more Gang members. Maître Francois-Pascal Gery, counsel for Gang ringleader Youssouf Fofana, the convicted killer of Ilan Halimi, said that his client was appealing his life sentence.
Last week, fearing light sentences, several French Jewish organisations called for a gathering before the Justice Ministry. After the verdict was announced, they asked the Minister to appeal. According to the French legal system, only the Parquet and the defendants can appeal penal sanctions. Plaintiffs are only allowed to appeal for civil damages.
On July 13, at , several hundred people, most of them Jewish, gathered peacefully on a side street leading to Place Vendôme, where they were kept at a distance from the Ministry. They thanked the Minister for her decision and called for “Justice for Ilan.” Then a delegation composed of Jewish community leaders and Patrick Lozès President of CRAN (umbrella group of Black organizations) met with one advisor of the Minister of Justice. They emphasized the importance of holding the appeals trial in open court, with access to the media and the public, so that it would serve its pedagogical purpose.
The trial held this spring covered several attempted kidnappings in addition to Ilan Halimi’s murder. They all had the same modus operandi.
In December 2005, Gang of Barbarians chief Youssouf Fofana asked Alexandra S. to lure Michael Douieb, a Jewish music producer. On January 5, 2006 she met Mr Douieb and asked him to drive her “home” to a building in the Parisian banlieue of Arcueil, where Jean-Christophe S and Youssouf Fofana were waiting for him. They beat Douieb with iron bars while Youssouf Fofana shouted:
‘Dirty Jew, croak, you filthy kike! Neighbours, who heard Douieb shouting, reacted and his assailants fled.
Marc K., a young Jewish salesman, was lured by “Léa” (Audrey). He was wary and did not answer her messages.
Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish salesman aged 23, was lured by “Yalda” and kidnapped on January 20, 2006. He was held by the Gang and tortured for 24 days in an apartment, then in a basement in Bagneux, a banlieue south of Paris near Arcueil. Youssouf Fofana asked the modest Halimi family for a high ransom, because he was convinced that Jews have money and stick together. No ransom was given. Youssouf Fofana stabbed Ilan Halimi and set him in fire on February 13, 2009, near the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois train station (Parisian suburb). Ilan Halimi was found naked, with burns over 80% of his body. He died during the transfer to the hospital. Ilan’s mother Ruth Halimi co-authored with Emilie Frèche an account of the ordeal--24 jours, la vérité sur la mort d’Ilan Halimi (24 Days, The Truth about Ilan Halimi’s Death)—in which she severely criticizes the tragic errors of the French police, including the refusal to admit the anti-Semitic motive of kidnappers.
The trial started on April 30, 2009 before the Paris Juvenile Criminal Court. Because two of the defendants were under 18 in February 2006, all of the defendants were tried together, behind closed doors (huis clos). Journalists and the public were not allowed to attend the hearings.
French Jewry expected a lot from that trial, since it has faced a dramatic wave of anti-Semitic acts since the Intifada II; the most severe crimes were the 2003 murder of Sebastien Selam and the murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006.
Since he was arrested in 2006, Youssouf Fofana has dismissed more than 30 lawyers. During the trial, he rejected all four of his lawyers, including Isabelle Coutant-Peyre--who is married to the terrorist “Carlos” --because he suspected her to be Jewish!
The presiding judge, her assistants, and the jury – 5 women, 4 men - retired to deliberate. Jurors’ names are chosen at random on electoral lists.
The verdict was publically pronounced on July 10, 2009, during Shabbat…probably to reduce the number of Jewish spectators and their reactions.
Youssouf Fofana was sentenced to life imprisonment, with no possibility of parole for 22 years. 24 accomplices were sentenced from 18 years in prison to six months suspended, and two accomplices were acquitted. While hearing his sanction, Youssouf Fofana smiled and applauded. The defendants’ lawyers were satisfied because the Court “did not make an example.”
Ilan Halimi’s family was represented by a famous lawyer Maître Francis Szpiner. On July 10, Maître Szpiner expressed satisfaction that the Court had acknowledged that Ilan Halimi’s murder was anti-Semite and sentenced Youssouf Fofana to the most severe penal sanction. Nevertheless, he deplored the lenient sentences pronounced for a dozen accomplices who played essential roles as the “lure,” jailers, and torturers. He invited the Ministry to appeal those sentences.
Some facts may explain that verdict. The Court wanted to judge a case, not a phenomenon. Jurors were impressed by the distinction, established by the Avocat Général in the course of the hearings, between two types of anti-Semitism. Fofana had numerous accomplices, and they represent members of Black Blanc Beur France (diversity). Maybe jurors wondered if their own children might be influenced by someone like Youssouf Fofana.
The trial revealed the Islamization of France: some Gang members had converted to Islam when teen-agers and attended the same Salafist Mosquee as Youssouf Fofana.
“This trial is also the trial of our society,” wrote Richard Prasquier, the president of the French Jewish umbrella organization CRIF.
Maître Muriel Ouaknine-Melki, who represented Mr Douieb, deplored: “Youssouf Fofana answered questions about his murder of Ilan Halimi without expressing any regret. It was painful to hear such barbaric behaviour. Philippe Bilger, the Avocat general [roughly equivalent to the state’s attorney or public prosecutor] asked him: ‘Don’t you think that by your act you made anti-Semitism odious?’ All the lawyers for the plaintiffs were indignant. Maître Szpiner asked Mr Bilger: ‘Is there an anti-Semitism that is not odious?’ The Avocat général answered: ‘No,’ but his answer was confused. And that is the problem. And I started to bring out any form of anti-Semitism among the defendants. One of the accomplices answered my question that, four or five times a day, she heard ‘Ne mange pas comme un feuj!’ (Don’t eat like a Jew), which means ‘Don’t eat like you’re stingy!’ And she was not shocked hearing those words.”
Moreover, Maître Muriel Ouaknine-Melki stigmatizes the Avocat general Philippe Bilger’s réquisitoire (recommendations to the jury) that “distinguished a violent anti-Semitism represented by Youssouf Fofana and a ‘trivial’ anti-Semitism represented by his accomplices. But there are not two kinds of anti-Semitism, one which is tolerable and the other unacceptable. Any form of anti-Semitism is violent.” Many of the sanctions recommended by the Avocat general were lighter than what would be expected.
Maître Muriel Ouaknine-Melki wonders about the appropriateness of Philippe Bilger’s interview in the weekly magazine Paris-Match a few days before the verdict was pronounced. Philippe Bilger evoked his father who “was sentenced at the Liberation of France to 10 years forced labour for collaboration with the enemy.” He dismissed “intellectuals who try to pass for Sartre when they are nothing more than essayists of the fleeting moment, masters of flattery, and blind to the universal. I’m thinking of Alain Minc, Jacques Attali, Max Gallo, André Glucksmann. And of course Bernard-Henri Lévy.” All but Gallo are Jewish.
Maître Francis Szpiner deplored: “In the mind of the Juvenile Criminal Court presided by Judge Nadia Ajjan and the Avocat general Philippe Bilger, the motive of anti-Semitism only applied to Youssouf Fofana. It was not attributed to his accomplices.”
Richard Prasquier, cited in the July 17 edition of the online daily Mediapart, comments: “It may be that some people see anti-Semitism every where. But others, like Philippe Bilger, minimize it. Maybe that is Philippe Bilger’s way of seeing things—he underplays anti-Semitism. That’s what is troubling about Mr Bilger…that’s what arouses suspicion.”
Two major Magistrate’s Unions criticized the Minister of Justice’s decision. They argued that it was a political act. They were dubious about the interest of a new trial, which might again be held behind closed doors (huis clos).
However, on July 8, 2009, Deputies François Baroin and Jack Lang registered a motion for legislation that would give the Juvenile Criminal Court the option to decide whether hearings should be public or not. The proposed measure will be voted at the Parliamentary session this fall.
The Ministry was also criticized for yielding to alleged pressures from a [Jewish] community seeking revenge.
On July 16, Minister of Justice Michèle Alliot-Marie justified her decision by referring to “the interests of society and keeping the peace”.
Maître Francis Szpiner insists that the Minister of Justice simply exercised her right to appeal, as the defendants would have appealed if they had been dissatisfied by the judgement.
Furthermore, Magistrate and writer Denis Salas told the Catholic daily La Croix: “Plaintiffs have asked for reforms of penal law more and more frequently in recent years. After young Karine’s death, French legislators created “a real life imprisonment.” La Croix concluded that the Halimi family’s request to political authorities for a new trial and revision of the rules for huis clos can be seen as another step in reform of penal law.
(Special thanks to NP)