Islam Versus Europe
November 29, 2013
Religion was his ordeal. Four months after the facts, Antoine (name changed) can hardly speak of the 72 days of detention in which he was subjected to death threats and intimidation from fellow prisoners who wanted to convert him to Islam by force, which for them equivalent to salvation.
His story starts at the end of May when the young man was sentenced to 5 years in prison for a rape he has always denied.
After the verdict, Antoine was incarcerated in the prison in Fresnes (Val-de-Marne), in the area for new arrivals. After a week, he was transferred to a cell of 9 square metres, where two fellow prisoners awaited him. “I started talking to the first but the second, who had a long beard, acted as if I wasn’t there,” says Antoine. An indifference of short duration. When he came back from his walk, the silent one spoke to Antoine.
“He asked me why I was there and, above all, if I was a believer,” he recalls. I replied that I was a Catholic but not very active in practice. He immediately replied saying this was an error, “because the only religion worthy of the name was Islam.” He showed several religious works and urged his fellow prisoner to “forget everything he learned outside the walls, because his only salvation would come from conversion to the Muslim religion.” In order to pacify the situation, Antoine agreed to read one of the books.
Three days later, he asked to speak with one of the prison psychologists. “She tried to prevaricate, telling me that things would go back to normal and that if I asked to be moved, there was a risk that I would meet people who were even more violent,” he recalls.
After a week, the young man went out on a walk for the first time. “Five people, including my fellow prisoner, surrounded me in a corner of the yard and threatened me, explaining me that I had better read the books and convert rapidly.”
Panic-stricken, Antoine alerted his lawyer and the prison officials. “In the course of the next few days, they were yelling my surname in the passageways, calling me a grass and saying I would go to hell. I begged to be transferred to the cooler because I knew it was the only place I would be safe,” he continues. “But I stayed in the same cell. I was terrorised more and more. One evening my cell mate spoke to me about Jews and offered some antisemitic insults. I told him that, personally, I had nothing against this religion. That made him go into a black rage.”
The next day, he would pay for his remarks. “In the early evening, one of the guards let a prisoner from one of the neighbouring cells into my cell with a 20 cm blade in his hand,” he says. The guard, who is currently subject to an administrative inquiry, left, slamming the door. For about twenty minutes, the young man confronted his cell mate and his accomplice, alone: “They warned me: ‘If you don’t convert, you’re a dead man’.”
Told by Antoine about these new threats — corroborated by other prisoner testimony – the prison management decided to move him to another cell, under a false name to avoid reprisals. At the same time, a search of his former cell was organised. Along with mobile phones and SIM cards, the guards discovered several books, including one: “How to convert a non-Muslim.”
Antoine, however, continued to suffer. A few days later, he was kicked and punched by several fellow prisoners in a passageway. The day after, seven people suspected of aggressive proselytism, including his cell mate, were identified with the help of agents from the prison information service. They were moved to other prisons. Antoine was freed in mid-September.