This week in court: Belgian TV, protests and the mystery of the absent artists
This was another week of televised testimony from Belgian police investigators, with five of the accused still refusing to leave their cells in protest at the fact that the witnesses from Brussels are being allowed to testify anonymously. And then there was the question of what had become of the courtroom artists.
It took me a while to figure out what had changed.
The missing prisoners have made a big difference, of course. Five absent accused means there are 15 fewer people in the glass box which dominates the left-hand side of the business end of the special criminal court.
Each of the absent is normally accompanied by two police escorts. They leave a lot of empty space behind them.
But that wasn't the only difference.
Suddenly I realised that the court artists were missing as well.
Painting the proceedings
Benoit Peyrucq, Sergio Aquindo, Elisabeth de Pourquery, Valentin Pasquier and their colleagues are normally part of the décor, sketching and painting in odd places, magically filling the gap created by the law which forbids the taking of photographs in French courtrooms.
There are chairs with special arm-rests for the artists' pads dotted about the court. But the painters pop up everywhere. Benoit Peyrucq, for example, recently spent a day drawing the journalists in the press room. I tried to look interested, and interesting, every time he glanced my way. He ignored me completely.
Elisabeth de Pourquery is frequently to be seen at the desk of the tribunal secretariat, wielding her tiny electric hair-dryer during the breaks, smilingly encouraging her watercolour washes to dry before she can add the details. She radiates benign calm, and is polite even in the face of idiotic questions posed in poor French.
She is the only woman in the sketching squad.
Solemn ritual of justice
The painters and drawers are distinctive because they don't wear the black robes of the legal confraternity which bustles around them. They don't carry laptops. They never rush. They don't talk too much. And this week, they all seemed to be absent.
The problem, of course, is Belgian TV.
Since the witnesses are testifying from Brussels by videolink, there is no one standing at the bar, the centre of the stage on which this solemn ritual of French justice is being acted out. And five prisoners are missing too. So there isn't all that much to sketch.
I hope they come back soon, the painters, the prisoners, and the real people at the bar. This phase of the Belgian participation is scheduled to end on Thursday.
The trial continues.
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