French torture device auction at Hotel Salomon de Rothschild called off after outcry

Tools used for torture and humiliation, part of a collection of some 250 items, are displayed at the Hotel Salomon de Rothschild in Paris March 31, 2012. (REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)

Agence France Presse | Mar 31, 2012

PARIS: A French auction house Friday called off the planned sale of a collection of torture devices dating back three centuries, which had sparked outrage among rights groups and in Algeria.

Some 350 objects, from a hand-crusher to hanging ropes and written death sentences, collected by France’s last executioner Fernand Meyssonnier until his death in 2008, had been slated to go on sale on Tuesday in Paris.

A former chief executioner in French-ruled Algeria, Meyssonnier carried out 198 executions between 1957 and the country’s independence in 1962, devoting the rest of his life to retirement and his torture collection.

Controversial French Torture Auction Cancelled Last Minute Amid Outcry

French auction house Cornette de Saint Cyr was organizing the sale in Paris for the benefit of the Meyssonnier family. However, following the wave of protests, it said Friday it had cancelled the auction.

“Given the emotion aroused by this sale… we decided to suspend it so that all parties concerned can calmly examine the actual content of this collection,” auctioneer Bertrand Cornette de Saint Cyr told AFP.

Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand had in a statement voiced his “strong disapproval” and urged a cancellation of the sale of objects that were morbid, reflected barbarism raised “painful historical questions”.

The Algerian press had also voiced strong disapproval of the auction.

“The minister called me to inform me of the emotion aroused by the sale, particularly in Algeria. The sale is legal but we made the decision to suspend it,” another auctioneer, Arnaud Cornette de Saint Cyr, told AFP.

Rights groups on Wednesday attacked the planned auction as “shocking and immoral”, according to a joint statement by the ACAT-France Christian anti-torture group, Amnesty International France, the Human Rights League, the Movement Against Racism (MRAP) and the Primo Levi association.

Denouncing what they called the “commercialisation of torture”, they called on the French state — which abolished the death penalty in 1981 — to remove the lots from sale, if necessary by buying them for museums.

“What shocks us is that torture is still practiced in half of all countries,” said Eleonore Morel, director of the Primo Levi association, calling the sale “extremely degrading for all the victims of torture”.

Henri Pouillot of the MRAP told AFP the planned auction was “perverse and macabre”. Pouillot said he was particularly alarmed by Meyssonnier’s connection to Algeria, where French forces are acknowledged to have practiced torture during the war of independence from 1956 to 1962.

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