Hague prison conditions 'draconian', says Taylor

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The Independent Online

Charles Taylor, the war crimes suspect and former president of Liberia, used his court appearance yesterday to complain about "draconian" conditions and unappetising European food in the Netherlands prison in which he is being held.

Mr Taylor appeared for the first time in The Hague before a UN-backed special court on behalf of Sierra Leone, which is using the premises of the International Criminal Court. The trial was moved after fears that it could cause unrest in Sierra Leone or Liberia.

The UN Security Council authorised the trial's transfer to The Hague in June. Mr Taylor denies the charges against him, but may spend the rest of his life in prison if found guilty. During the conflict in Sierra Leone, Liberia's neighbour, between 1991 and 2002 Mr Taylor backed rebels who raped and mutilated civilians. In April, he attended an initial hearing in the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, where he pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes.

At yesterday's procedural hearing, Karim Khan, Mr Taylor's lawyer, lodged a series of complaints about the conditions in which his client is being held. He said that Mr Taylor cannot make phone calls as freely as he could in Sierra Leone; that he is locked in his cell for up to 16 hours a day due to staff shortages; and that he is unhappy about the food in the "rather Eurocentric" prison.

His lawyer also asked the court to help speed up the processing of visas so that family, including Mr Taylor's pregnant wife, could visit the Netherlands.