On December 8th 2009, Mr. Pierre Henry Martzloff was extradited from Morocco and subsequently detained in the infamous jail of Fleury-Merogis located 30km away from the French capital.
The gigantic prison was opened in 1968 and is the largest in the European Union with up to 3,500 inmates detained. The condition of detention were horrendous but the Court took 26 years after the first complain to find a violation of article 3 of the Convention.
On October 7th 1987, the European Commission of Human Rights dismissed the case Breguet v. France (11550/85) for lack of answer of the lawyer Me Jacques Verges. The applicant was condemned to 10 days in solitary confinement in Fleury Merogis for having written in a private letter that the chief of guards was “miserable“. He complained that his detention in the solitary confinement in Fleury-Merogis was a violation of article 3 of the Convention.
On March 8th 1988, the European Commission of Human Rights ruled in case Theron v. France (11422/85) that the condition of detention didn’t attain the threshold required by article 3 of the Convention. The applicant who was serving a sentence of 8 days in solitary confinement, was condemned to 15 more days for having written in a private letter that the solitary confinement in Fleury-Merogis was “white torture“. The applicant described his solitary confinement cell as very dirty and the food as disgusting. He complained that his mattress was very dirty without linen, and that he couldn’t take a shower and change his clothes more than once a week.
On July 4th 2006, the Grand Chamber of the Court ruled in case Ramirez Sanchez v. France (59450/00) that the solitary confinement of the applicant for 8 years in the 3 infamous jails (La Sante, Fresnes, Fleury-Merogis) was a not violation of article 3 of the Convention. The applicant complained that his cell was in terrible condition with no private toilet, and that the yard for daily exercise was nothing more than a large cage. Surprisingly, the Court even found the condition of detention in the solitary confinement unit of Fleury-Merogis in compliance (§130) with the Recommendation Rec(2006)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the European Prison Rules. The Court had never visited the unit.
On June 12th 2007, the Court ruled in case Frerot v. France (70204/01) that the multiple naked strip searches of the applicant in the jail of Fresnes were a violation of article 3 of the Convention (§48). The applicant complained that he was ordered to open his mouth during naked strip searches in jail of Fleury-Merogis and upon his refusal was condemned to the solitary confinement unit. Surprisingly, his lawyers Me Christophe Nicolaÿ et Me Ludovic de Lanouvelle didn’t complain about the condition of detention in the solitary confinement unit.
On September 11th 2007, the online newspaper Rue89 released a plan and pictures of cells of the solitary confinement unit of the jail of Fleury-Merogis.
On January 20th 2011, the Court found in case Payet v. France (19606/08) that the detention in the solitary confinement unit of the jail of Fleury-Merogis constituted a “degrading and inhumane treatment” (§85) and therefore a violation of article 3 of the Convention, 26 years after the first application made by Mr. Bruno Breguet in 1985.
On December 18th 2008, the daily newspaper Le Monde released an extract of a 2h30 video of the regular unit of the jail, shot clandestinely by detainees. On April 2th 2009, the state television France 2 showed a documentary on the jail with 40mn of footage from the clandestine video (see below).
In the case Martzloff v. France (6183/10), the applicant complained that his cell is very cold because of broken windows, that he have to use the toilet in front of other detainees and that the communal showers are broken. According to him, the exercise yard lacks toilet and showers and is full of dead rats bodies. These allegations are confirmed by the clandestine video and the NGO OIP. On February 1st 2011, the application was communicated to the agent of the French government with questions to be answered within 16 weeks. The applicant is not represented by a lawyer.
In 20 years and during its 11 visits to France, the CPT of the Council of Europe never visited the largest jail of the European Union (except the young offender site located outside of the main compound in 1996).