Papon should not be in jail during war crimes trial, say doctors

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Two doctors recommended yesterday that Maurice Papon, the Vichy official on trial in Bordeaux for crimes against humanity, should sleep in hospital, not in jail, until the case ends.

The court delayed a decision on the recommendation until today. Mr Papon, who is 87 and suffering from acute angina, spent his third night in a 10m-square prison cell last night. On Wednesday his lawyers warned that he could die during the trial unless he was allowed his freedom.

Mr Papon, a former French budget minister and Paris police chief, is accused of organising the arrest and deportation of 1,558 Jewish men, women and children from the Bordeaux area between 1942 and 1944.

He does not deny the basic facts but says he played a minor role in policies which were outside his control. The prosecution says that he pursued the policy energetically and ruthlessly, to prove his worth as an administrator; in other words, out of careerism.

The second day of the trial yesterday was taken up mostly by declarations and submissions from Mr Papon's principal lawyer, Jean-Marc Varaut.

He called for the proceedings to be abandoned on the grounds that they were "inequitable" and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Contrary to what had been reported in the press, Mr Varaut said, Maurice Papon did feel a sense of "grief" for the events of this "terrible period" when it was "harder to know one's duty than to follow it."

Because of his post at the time - secretary general to the police chief in Bordeaux - and because of his sense of duty, Papon became involved in the "via dolorosa" of the holocaust, against his better judgement.

Since discovering what really happened to the Jews he helped to deport, "the knowledge has brought him acute pain," Mr Varaut said.

Earlier doctors Stephane Chapenoire and Jean-Paul Broustet reported to the court that the seriousness of Mr Papon's heart condition, the poor medical facilities in jail and the likely length of the trial (11 weeks) made it desirable that he be kept in hospital. Mr Varaut said that even this was unsatisfactory: Mr Papon should be given his freedom.

The accused sat in court, following the proceedings closely and taking notes with a fountain pen. Despite his work for the Vichy French government, which collaborated with Nazism, Mr Papon thrived after the war, rising to budget minister in 1981 before his past caught up with him.