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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK

World: Europe

France guilty of torture

The European court awarded Selmouni $99,000 in damages

France has been found guilty of torture by the European Court of Human Rights - the first European Union country to be condemned on such grounds.

The BBC's Stephen Jessel in Paris: The court's finding is embarrassing for the French Government
The Strasbourg court ruled that the treatment by French police of drug dealer Ahmed Selmouni eight years ago was "of a particularly cruel and serious nature".

"Such dealings must be seen as acts of torture under (the European Convention on Human Rights)," the court said, awarding Selmouni $99,350 in compensation for his physical and mental suffering and legal costs.

France was also found guilty of excessive delays in the administration of justice because seven and a half years elapsed before the conviction of the police officers whom Selmouni accused of torture and sexual exploitation.

'Beaten and abused'

Selmouni, who is currently serving a 13-year sentence in a French prison, complained to the authorities in 1992 that he had been the victim of police brutality after he was arrested in Paris in November 1991 on heroin smuggling charges.

He alleged that during questioning, he had been severely punched, kicked and clubbed, had his toes crushed and was chained to a set of stairs for a day. Selmouni accused one policeman of sexually abusing him with a truncheon.

Lawyers for Selmouni, who is of Dutch and Moroccan origin, said he had lost the use of his left eye as a result of the beatings.

Long path to conviction

Prosecutors in Versailles, to the west of Paris, did not open an inquiry until February 1993. It took three more years for the authorities to formally place the officers under investigation in connection with Selmouni's allegations.

It was only after another three years - in March 1999 - that the officers involved were convicted and sentenced to jail terms of two to four years.

The ruling sparked protests by police across France, and the sexual exploitation charges were later thrown out and the sentences reduced on appeal.

France is the only member of the European Union to have been convicted of torture by the human rights court, although Turkey, a member of the Council of Europe, has been convicted on these grounds.

The European Court of Human Rights is part of the 41-member Council of Europe, which was set up after World War II to promote democracy and human rights.

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