‘You can’t turn the clock back’: Paris survivors react to verdicts

“A trial lasting ten months, it helps to rebuild. It’s over, there’s going to be a void.” 

Sophie, a survivor of the terror attack on the Bataclan concert venue, responded with relief and tears in her eyes after Wednesday’s verdicts over the attacks of 13 November, 2015.

More than six years after the worst crime of the post-war period in France, the special criminal court in Paris sentenced Salah Abdeslam — the only surviving member of the terror group which killed 130 people — to life imprisonment, the heaviest sentence in the penal code.

The other defendants were given sentences ranging from two years to life in prison, with the possibility of parole for some and a mandatory life sentence for others.

Before verdicts were read out, the large courtroom had never been so full — with survivors and relatives of the victims squeezed together on the wooden benches, the electric atmosphere a far cry from the striking silence of the trial’s first day last September. 

“The sentences are quite heavy,” said Sophie, moved. “They won’t get out of prison immediately. We’re going to enjoy it, I feel a lot of relief.”

She took David Fritz, a Bataclan survivor, in her arms. “I feel I have grown up. It’s important to see that justice has been done. It was necessary. It’s a bit of a floating moment, like slamming a big iron door,” he says.

Verdicts help to ‘turn the page’

“The way to deal with this horror was to rebuild as a group, and not individually. We needed to stick together and to hear what justice had to say to us after six and a half years,” said Arthur Dénouveaux, President of the victims’ association Life For Paris.

But, he added after the verdicts, this was just the first stage in a long healing process.

“I still have the impression of a huge mess, people are sent to prison, there were more than 130 deaths and justice comes to repair the unspeakable. By repairing, you don’t go backwards. Before thinking about the aftermath, I’m going to digest the fact that we’ve finished the first loop. I hope to conjugate the word ‘victim’ in the past tense.”

“It (the court) decided to be extremely severe. I am convinced that this will satisfy some of the victims,” said  Philippe Duperron, President of another victims’ association, 13onze15. “It depends on each individual, some needed this sentence (life imprisonment for Salah Abdeslam).”

One Bataclan survivor, Bruno Poncet, expressed unease though at the verdicts.

“Some sentences may seem a bit heavy. I wonder about our prisons, which are already overloaded. I am afraid that we are creating monsters,” he said.”It is a real relief to have finished with the trial… there is a fear of emptiness today but it is time to get out. I’m going back to work on Monday, I can’t wait,” he added.

But Gérard Chemla, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, described the sentences as “satisfactory”.

“After the verdict, we have the feeling that we are turning a page,” he said. “They (the judges) took a decision that was very well reasoned. The sentences handed down are not excessive… We are at a satisfactory moment for everyone, in any case for justice.”

France’s former President François Hollande — who was in office at the time of the attacks and gave evidence at the trial — welcomed the end of what he described as an “exceptional” and “exemplary” trial. The defendants, he said, had been “judged in accordance with the law”.

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