President of the Association Against Torture Nasraoui holds photographs during an interview in Tunis

Cases of torture

After the revolution torture is still a widespread phenomenon in Tunisia, as reported by many Tunisian human rights activists and organizations. There is however one big difference, civil society organizations and media are able to report cases of torture freely in pressuring government institutions to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Last year there was a public outcry by civil society and women right’s activists when it turned out three police offers had raped a young woman. After the police asked the woman and her fiancée for their identity cards while they were sitting in their car they eventually separated the two and took her to their (police) car where two of the officers raped her. The third police officer tried to bribe her fiancée by demanding money from him, and according to the fiancée the officer went with him to a bank to get money from the cash dispenser. The case became politically sensitive when the officer’s lawyer accused the girl of “indecency”, which is still punishable under current law. Eventually the court case was postponed and the accused police officers are still in custody awaiting the final verdict. The girl wrote later a book about that awful evening she was raped and shared her story on television programs as well.

Walid Denguir left last week Friday afternoon his home to buy some small things. After soon having been arrested by the police a few hours later his mother was called to tell her that her son died. At the hospital she identified his badly beaten body. The ministry admitted the excessive use of force but said it was still waiting for the results of the autopsy to declare the final cause of his death. Walid’s death caused an outctry on social media after pictures of his dead body were shared among viewers.

After his funeral an angry crowd shouted slogans against the government and declaring to “take revenge for what has been done to Walid”.

Not a new phenomenon

Just to be clear, torture is not a new phenomenon that has struck Tunisia’s since the revolution. Ben Ali’s regime was well known for its torture. Back at that time the security forces could do anything they want without having to take any responsibility. It was a method that made Tunisians fear the security forces, better known as the “right hand of Ben Ali” in keeping the people “in check”. Tunisian media was strictly controlled and you would therefore never hear anything about cases of torture.

After the revolution the government has expressed its intention to instill checks and balances in the newly written constitution that criminalize torture. Apart from that it also tried to reform the security apparatus, although accountability for charges committed under the previous regime (or during the revolution) has not been settled (yet). Nevertheless a reshuffle within the security forces did take place after the revolution. Moreover the current government also set aside a separate ministry tasked with human rights and transitional justice. Despite those actions that the government has taken to reform and tackle the widespread use of torture by police and security forces it is still a rampant issue that needs to be further addressed.

Authority for the Prevention of Torture

Tunisia’s constituent assembly adopted last month a law to create a national authority for the prevention of torture and other inhuman treatment. 16 elected experts will have the authority to visit any site where people are reported to be deprived of their liberty in order to document the torture or ill-treatment. Moreover based on its documentation it will issue recommendations of measures that need to be taken to eradicate torture and inhuman treatment.

What is really decisive in taking a tough stance against torture is whether the authority is made up of independent people and its recommendations are actually used in new policy making to prevent torture. This means there should be a strong political willingness to take further action on preventing torture from taking place. Eventually accountability is the only decisive factor in eradicating torture in Tunisia.