Ramzi says he and the other detainees were exposed to various types of torture, starting with an arrest with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Ramzi says he and the other detainees were exposed to various types of torture, starting with an arrest with tear gas and rubber bullets. “They cruelly beat members of our families,” he said, “and ended by beating us with military boots, sticks, and batons on sensitive areas of our bodies.”
Another detainee, 25 year-old Riyad Abdulmalik Haidouri, was wounded during the revolution; he is an unemployed graduate.
“Our detention was hell,” he recalls. “You can imagine how we were tortured from the first moment we were arrested; We suffered beating, moral humiliation, and burning with lighters on several spots on the body,” Riyad says.
The detainees, according to Riyad, were prevented from undergoing medical tests in order to determine the severity of the injuries they suffered. There were finally allowed medical attention, 22 days later, after the wounds had already healed.
Tortured to death
Radhia Nasraoui, head of the Tunisian Association Against Torture (TAAT), says this incident is not isolated rather remains an ongoing phenomenon, even after the toppling of Ben Ali’s regime. “Torture continues since the revolution and is almost more horrible and brutal than before; some have had permanent disabilities, and some even died under torture,” Nasraoui said.
Nasraoui says TAAT has received numerous complaints from citizens who have been subjected to insult and torture and it reaches across all age groups.
TAAT says that the situation, the security system and the judiciary have not yet been changed since large parts of the judiciary are still not independent, which prevents the enforcement of the law against those involved in torture charges.
Several human rights organizations in Tunisia say that despite their actions and demands to open investigations and activate the laws that limit the phenomenon of torture during pre-trial detention or inside prisons, no progress has been made.
Nasraoui stresses the need to activate the national mechanism for protection against torture, especially since Tunisia has ratified the Optional Protocol Against Torture, and also the need to form a specialized committee that visits detention centers abruptly and reports on all offenses committed against human rights. She also calls on human rights organizations to enforce laws that criminalize torture and provide for severe punishment against violators.
Nasraoui added that TAAT received several complaints related to cases of torture, which had occurred under the former regime or the current government, but the investigations for these accumulated ‘cases’ did not see any progress. She expressed her fear of more torture in the future in light of the government’s failure to address these issues seriously.
Threats and sexual assault
Abdel Sattar Ben Moussa, head of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LTDH), suggests that torture as a phenomenon and practice is not yet over. “Unfortunately, torture is still perching on the minds inside lockups and behind the walls of prisons and detention centers,” Ben Moussa said.
He says that LTDH has received numerous complaints about torture, where several ‘victims’ have been examined medically. Ben Moussa reveals that numerous Tunisians have suffered torture, like what happened with some detainees in Hansha area in Sfax (250 km south of Tunis) as “medical reports have proven their being exposed to severe assault, torture, and threats of sexual assault as well,” he says.
Ben Moussa added that what encouraged the continuity and growth of torture after the revolution was the absence of deterrence against violators. He also stressed that non-compliance with the laws protecting detainees’ rights, whether through offering medical tests from the first moments of detention until their release or through starting serious investigations if it was proved they suffered torture, significantly contributed to the spread of this phenomenon to almost all detention centers.
Reactions, accusations, and continuous condemnation forced the interim government led by the Ennahda Party acknowledge the existence of torture cases post revolution, when the Minister of Human Rights, Samir Dilou, declared that his ministry had significant suspicions about the continuality of acts of torture against citizens after the revolution. Dilou said the ministry had started an investigation regarding this concern several months earlier and submitted recommendations to the judiciary.
Dilou pointed out that human rights violations continued because the system was sill defect. His ministry spokesman, Shakib Darwish, suggested the same thing, stressing that the torture phenomenon “is an issue that fills the ministry with grief and pain” and admitted the existence of some violations in this field.
“We are witnessing a period of transition and some infringements may happen, but the cases of torture are just a few and do not obscure positive indicators, since most detainees enjoy very good treatment,” he claimed.
The ministry and human rights organizations have drafted a bill for a national commission for the prevention of torture, and the cabinet has approved it. It will soon be referred to the National Constituent Assembly, according to Darwish.