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Muslim suspect in St Denis vandalism case does ‘not understand’ charge

The Basilica of Saint-Denis is the final resting place of the Kings of France. A suspect has been accused of damaging two doors, several stained glass windows and the organ of the Basilica at the beginning of March. The alleged vandal will be judged in May.

Published: April 14, 2019, 9:19 am

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    Paris

    Le Parisien reported that a 41-year-old man appeared before the Court in Bobigny on Friday on charges of damaging the organ in the historic church. The hearing has been postponed until May 10.

    “I don’t know how I’m involved in this case,” the defendant told the Bobigny court on Friday. Suspected of severe vandalism, the 41-year-old man had been scheduled for an immediate appearance.

    When asked whether he would prefer to postpone the date of his trial to prepare his defence, as provided for in the procedure, he replied that he “does not understand the French judicial system”.

    He was arrested on Thursday at the detention centre in Vincennes (Val-de-Marne), incriminated by his DNA found at the Basilica. The suspect, a Pakistani national, arrived in France two months ago and does not speak French. He has already been cautioned by the law twice for having damaged property in February.

    Annoyed, the presiding judge suggested that “the situation is not very difficult to understand” and reiterated the question. “How can I explain if I don’t understand it?” he persisted.

    The judge then suggested that the Muslim suspect “deliberately did not understand” the charges. The court finally decided to postpone the trial until 10 May, and to place the accused in pre-trial detention until that date.

    A psychiatric assessment was also ordered.

    Saint-Denis is home to the royal necropolis of the Basilica of Saint-Denis and was also the location of the associated abbey. The site has been closely associated with the French royal house. Starting from Dagobert I (c 603 – 639), almost every French king has been buried in the Basilica.

    “Everyone is afraid of the 93,” one resident told The Nation, referring to the French numeric designation of Seine-Saint-Denis, home to numerous immigrant communities. Seine-Saint-Denis is the poorest department in metropolitan France.

    The suburb gained notoriety in 2005 when racial riots broke out after two migrant teenagers were electrocuted while hiding in a shed that housed a transformer to escape police pursuit. Black and Arab youths are stopped 20 times more often by law enforcement than French young adults because of their involvement in crime.

    The ensuing riots rocked France with thousands of cars and hundreds of buildings destroyed by fire, and some 6 000 people arrested. The government declared a state of emergency at the time, but 14 years later, the area’s bad reputation remains.

    A Muslim job applicant is now four times less likely to be hired, according to a 2015 study.

    Another study done in 2016, revealed that those living in a “priority neighborhood” —a category that applies to Seine-Saint-Denis — is 22 percent less likely to be hired as his Paris-based counterpart.

    In some areas of the department, 42 percent of its residents live below the poverty line, compared to 14 percent nationally. Unemployment, at 24 percent is more than double the national average, much higher that the 38 percent among youths.

    Patrick Simon, a demographer at the National Institute of Demographic Studies denounced this “racial discrimination” because it “complicates the system of inequality”.

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