Tears as Tu­nisians re­live tor­ture years

Rare spotlight on dic­ta­tor­ship crimes

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

TUNIS: As anger erupted and the tears be­gan to flow, four hours of tes­ti­mony on live tele­vi­sion by abuse vic­tims shone a rare spotlight on the crimes of Tu­nisia’s dark dic­ta­tor­ship years.

In a plain white room in­side a night club once owned by a dic­ta­tor’s en­tourage, vic­tims of tor­ture and abuse joined be­reaved rel­a­tives to de­liver an un­prece­dented ac­count of the vi­o­lence and in­tim­i­da­tion Tu­nisians en­dured over decades of despotic rule. “We will not be silent,” said Ourida Kadoussi, whose son was killed by se­cu­rity forces dur­ing the 2011 up­ris­ing against the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. “We want jus­tice for our mar­tyrs.”

Kad­dousi’s wit­ness state­ment is one of tens of thou­sands gath­ered by the Truth and Dig­nity Com­mis­sion (IVD), which has tracked hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions span­ning five decades. The com­plaints which the com­mis­sion re­ceived in­clude tor­ture, ar­bi­trary de­ten­tions, phys­i­cal abuse and vi­o­la­tions of free­dom of speech.

The tele­vised in­ter­views, which will con­tinue Fri­day, are part of the panel’s at­tempt to get Tu­nisians to con­front the demons of their past, as well as pro­vide jus­tice to those who en­dured the worst.

Lat­ifa Mat­mati’s hus­band Kamel died in po­lice cus­tody af­ter his ar­rest in Oc­to­ber 1991, just one of hun­dreds of Is­lamists to be de­tained and mistreated un­der Ben Ali’s rule. Lat­ifa told of her fran­tic at­tempts to find her hus­band, who was tor­tured dur­ing his de­ten­tion. Al­though he died shortly af­ter be­ing dragged from his of­fice by po­lice, she was in­structed to bring him clean clothes and food, teas­ing her with the hope he may still have been alive. His death cer­tifi­cate didn’t ar­rive un­til 18 years later. “We want his body so we can bury it,” Lat­ifa told the panel. “And we want these peo­ple to be held ac­count­able.”

‘Why did they do that?’

Sami Bra­hem, an Is­lamist aca­demic, also spoke of his ex­pe­ri­ence of tor­ture by Ben Ali’s hench­men. Af­ter be­ing ar­rested for a re­mark that was judged to be provoca­tive, he was se­verely beaten and had his head forced down a toi­let bowl. “I couldn’t get up for a week,” Bra­hem said.

He also de­scribed hor­rific scenes to the panel-and the tele­vi­sion au­di­ence-of pris­on­ers stripped naked, beaten and forced to climb on top of one another. “This was sex­ual vi­o­lence which I can­not un­der­stand. I don’t want to sully my coun­try, I want to talk about the hon­or­able things it has done... but why did they do that?” Bra­hem asked.

“When I was asked to tes­tify, I didn’t hes­i­tate in spite of my em­bar­rass­ment,” he said. Some in the room be­gan to cry. “I am ready to for­give if they pro­vide an ex­pla­na­tion. It is so­ci­ety’s right to know these things, so that they can be told in his­tory.” Last to speak was writer Gil­bert Nac­cache, well known for his left­ist op­po­si­tion to Habib Bour­guiba, who ruled ruth­lessly be­tween 1957 and 1987. “The po­lice, whether they are po­lit­i­cal or not, only know one method: tor­ture,” said Nac­cache dur­ing a tes­ti­mony sprin­kled with dark hu­mor that had au­di­ence mem­bers chuck­ling in spite of the se­ri­ous­ness of his al­le­ga­tions. “I have been to prison three times and three times I was sub­jected to tor­ture.”

Nac­cache said he did not wish to dwell on the de­tails of what he was forced to un­dergo dur­ing the Bour­guiba years, or the hardships suf­fered by Tu­nisians since the 2011 up­ris­ing. For him, Thurs­day’s tele­vised tes­ti­monies were “one day that makes up for the frus­tra­tions of the last five years.”—AFP

TUNIS: Tu­nisian moth­ers of a tor­ture vic­tims carry their sons’ por­traits as they ar­rive for a hear­ing be­fore the Truth and Dig­nity Com­mis­sion (IVD) on Thurs­day.—AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.