Rights groups slam auction of French torture devices

French executioner Fernand Meyssonnier no doubt would have enjoyed getting his hands on this actual hangman's noose, which came from a museum in Tombstone, Ariz.  The noose, used to hang convicted robber and murderer 'Red' Sample in 1884, sold at Heritage Auctions in November for $9,000 plus the buyer's premium. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com  Archive and Heritage Auctions.

French executioner Fernand Meyssonnier no doubt would have enjoyed getting his hands on this actual hangman’s noose, which came from a museum in Tombstone, Ariz. The noose, used to hang convicted robber and murderer ‘Red’ Sample in 1884, sold at Heritage Auctions in November for $9,000 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Heritage Auctions.

PARIS (AFP) – Rights groups Wednesday attacked as “shocking and immoral” the planned auction of an arsenal of torture devices dating back three centuries, collected by one of France’s last executioners.

Some 350 deathly objects, from a hand-crusher to cuffs and hanging ropes and written death sentences, collected by Fernand Meyssonnier up until his death in 2008, are slated to go on sale next 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 a peaceful retirement—and his pet torture collection.

French auction house Cornette de Saint Cyr is organizing the sale for the benefit of the Meyssonnier family.

But the ACAT-France Christian anti-torture group, Amnesty International France, the Human Rights League, the Movement Against Racism (MRAP) and the Primo Levi association issued a joint statement condemning the auction.

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

“We refuse to see people make 200,000 euros on the sale of such morbid objects,” Henri Pouillot of the MRAP told AFP, who called the planned auction “perverse and macabre.”

“If they have any historical value, these objects should be kept in a museum.”

Pouillot said he was 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.

The auctioneer, Bertrand Cornette de Saint Cyr, told AFP in response that “no objects concerning the Algerian war” were being offered for sale.

He said the house had decided to remove the mock guillotine from the sale, saying it was a modern replica at odds with the bulk of the collection, made up mostly of historical documents dating from the 16th century to the 1930s, or the stocks used as physical punishment in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“The objects evoke the Spanish Inquisition, mediaeval times,” he said of the collection, which is to go on display from Saturday ahead of the sale at the Salomon de Rothschild mansion in Paris.