France left red-faced by Algeria torture book ruling

17th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The case centres on the 2001 publication of "Special Services: Algeria 1955-1957," a book by a retired general in which he reveals how he personally took part in the torture and killing of 24 Algerian prisoners.

Strasbourg -- In an embarrassing ruling for France, the European Court of Human Rights awarded substantial damages to two French publishers convicted of being apologists for the torture of Algerians.

The case centres on the 2001 publication of "Special Services: Algeria 1955-1957," a book by retired general Paul Aussaresses in which he reveals how he personally took part in the torture and killing of 24 Algerian prisoners.

Aussaresses, who is now 90, made little apology in his book for his actions and implicated a number of senior French politicians, including then justice minister Francois Mitterrand, who he wrote had sanctioned his actions.

Aussaresses, publishing house Editions Plon and publishers Olivier Orban and Xavier de Bartillat were found guilty in 2002 of publicly defending war crimes and ordered to pay fines.

The judgment was upheld by the Court of Appeal the following year.

However, the convictions of Orban and De Bartillat were found Thursday to be a violation of their human rights and they were awarded damages totalling more than 33,000 euros (43,100 dollars).

After a unanimous verdict, the European Court of Human Rights issued a damning statement, saying the book, "unquestionably formed part of a debate on a matter of public concern which was of singular importance for the collective memory.

"The Court considered that the applicants’ conviction amounted to interference with their right to freedom of expression."

At the time of their conviction, Orban and De Bartillat were chairman and managing director respectively of Editions Plon.

The book by Aussaresses, a former member of the French special services, had an initial print run of some 25,000 copies which was followed by several reprints.

AFP/Expatica

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