VATICAN CITY: The Pope's butler has accused the Vatican of mistreating him, alleging he was kept in a tiny cell with the lights on constantly for up to 20 days.
In a surprise development, the judge in charge of the trial of Paolo Gabriele ordered an investigation into whether he had been held in inhumane conditions.
Speaking for the first time since his arrest in May, Mr Gabriele, who is accused of stealing confidential documents from the Pope's office, disclosed details of his time in an isolation cell in the headquarters of the Vatican gendarmerie, the Pope's police force.
He said the cell in which he was initially held after his arrest was so narrow he could not stretch out his arms and the bright lights had damaged his vision and left him depressed. He claimed to have been subjected to psychological pressure.
On his first night in what the Vatican initially called a ''secure room'' in the gendarmerie barracks, ''even a pillow was denied me'', he said.
The Vatican gendarmerie, which consists of 130 officers, said the lights were kept on constantly ''for security'' and because there were fears the butler might try to harm himself.
He had been given an eye mask to shield his face and was checked ''discreetly'' at intervals during the night, the police said. ''His principal rights, even regarding his privacy, were never violated,'' the gendarmerie said.
Gendarmes said Mr Gabriele was allowed to use the gendarmerie gym, to socialise with officers, many of whom he knew before his arrest, and to attend Mass.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, insisted the size of the cell, and the conditions under which Mr Gabriele was held, conformed to international standards. ''He received very humane treatment.''
The butler was later moved to a larger cell, Father Lombardi said.
Maurizio Turco, an Italian MP, called for international observers to ''check detention conditions within the walls of the so-called Holy See''.
In court, Mr Gabriele denied the one charge he faces - the ''aggravated theft'' of hundreds of documents, which were allegedly found in his apartment. ''I declare myself innocent,'' he said. ''[But] I feel guilty of having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father.''