The lawyers for Paris bombing suspect Salah Abdeslam say they will no longer represent their client because he has refused to talk while being held in solitary confinement under 24-hour surveillance.
Frank Berton, a high-profile French criminal lawyer representing Abdeslam, told reporters Wednesday that his client has been psychologically damaged by his strict detention at Fleury-Merogis prison, the Associated Press reports.
Abdeslam, 27, is accused of taking part in the terrorist attacks in Paris last November that killed 130 people. He was arrested in Brussels in March and extradited to France, indicating at the time that he would cooperate with French authorities regarding his role in the killings and how he became radicalized.
The Paris prosecutor has said that Abdeslam abandoned his suicide vest and fled Paris for Brussels after the attack on the Bataclan concert hall, cafes and the national stadium. The other attackers died in suicide bombings or were killed by police.
“I’ve been convinced for months that he is isolating and radicalizing himself, he is taking his video surveillance very badly,” Berton said. “This is not blackmail, it’s just the reality of his psychological and psychic state. The problem is related to his solitary confinement.”
He said it is impossible to try to defend someone who refuses to cooperate and that Abdeslam “has decided not to defend himself.”
Berton previously argued that two round-the-clock video cameras in Abdeslam’s cell could cause psychological damage, but France’s top administrative authority rejected the lawyer’s request to remove them, according to the AP. Judicial authorities argue the surveillance is needed to ensure he doesn’t commit suicide.
Berton and Abdeslam’s Belgian lawyer, Sven Mary, told France’s BFM-TV on Tuesday that their client has agreed with their decision to withdraw.
Calling the situation a “huge mess,” Berton said the use of strict prison measures was not about security but “is a consequence of a political decision.”
Mary says his client’s silence is preventing authorities from learning the truth about last year’s attacks and critical information on other extremist groups.
“The real victims in all this are the victims of attacks in Paris because they are entitled to this truth and they are entitled to try to understand the incomprehensible,” Mary tells BFM-TV..
A lawyer for some of the victims of the Paris attack, however, argues that Abdeslam reneged on a pledge to talk to investigators and that the round-the-clock monitoring of his cell has nothing to do with his silence.
“Salah Abdeslam is refusing to cooperate,” lawyer Samia Maktouf said.
“The video surveillance is just a pretext,” Reuters reported.