June 28 , 2013
By Greta Ghacibeh, Directrice, Association Tunisie Media
Two years after the “Jasmine revolution,” Tunisia seems to be the most stable compared to other Arab countries that experienced popular uprisings that led to the toppling of their dictators. But in recent months, with the political turmoil and hostile environment that reached its peak with the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, the situation on the ground never felt more fluid, unstable, and especially chaotic.
Daily protests, strikes, and clashes in the capital Tunis, as well as in the disenfranchised regions; rising anger among Tunisians fueled by what most see as an “underperforming government”; and security concerns in the country, have led to an out-of-control state of corruption.
Corruption itself was one of the driving forces that ignited the popular uprising in Tunisia. Large scale corruption may have decreased, but daily briberies have, on the contrary, increased substantially.
I, myself, experience this lawlessness regularly from Tunisia’s police. A recent incident where a Tunisian girl and her boyfriend who were stopped by a police patrol, who raped the girl and extorted the man, is an extreme example of what happens regularly to unsuspecting citizens.
I am stopped by the police on almost a daily basis, regardless of the area I’m driving through, or whether I’ve been pulled over for allegedly breaking the law or for a routine security check. The fact that I drive a rental car is usually a reason in itself to be “checked”. The first time it happened to me, I was at fault. I was talking on the phone while driving. But, what I didn’t expect was to be given a “choice” by the two cops who stopped me.
After questioning me for ten long minutes, and inspecting my driver’s license and car papers, they proceeded to tell me that they were going to take my driver’s license and my car and send me to court, in addition to paying a fine of sixty Tunisian dinars. They succeeded in scaring and intimidating me. As I was contemplating how to get out of this trouble, both cops grinned and laid out an “alternative suggestion”: “It’s either that, or we split the fine”.
I didn’t get it at first. Both cops gave me ear-to-ear smiles and repeating their suggestion, then one of them whispered to me: “discreetly, we keep it between us”.
Since that day, these kinds of incidents have happened multiple times. The most scary ones are when I am stopped while driving home alone at night.
During the Ben Ali regime, an order was given by the ousted president that “no woman driving a car alone at night was to be stopped by the police, under any circumstances”. No law was needed to execute the presidential desire. A dictator’s order was enough.
When I tell these stories to my Tunisian friends, I get various reactions. Some tell me I should pay them off. Others tell me I shouldn’t give them anything and encourage bribery.
The best advice I’ve received is to pretend not to speak any French or Arabic, and play “dumb foreigner” when I am stopped by a police officer.
So far, it’s working.
Rights of persons under arrest in Tunisia
Post-revolutionary amendments to Tunisia’s law on torture brought it more into line with international law. Though there continue to be accusations of torture, such incidents are far less common than before the revolution. Most such accusations concern the beating of protestors at demonstrations or at police stations. Freedom House notes that human-rights reforms have not taken place in the law-enforcement sector as extensively as in other spheres of Tunisian society. And Amnesty International has noted that while Tunisia’s post-revolutionary Interior Ministry planned sweeping police reforms, it has not addressed pre-revolutionary human-rights violations by the police and others in authority.
Meziou noted in December 2012 that the post-revolutionary government was arresting people but not bringing them to trial. “Some of the officials from the former regime have been under arrest for almost two years and they are still awaiting trial, which does not seem imminent,” she wrote. Also, young demonstrators in various places around the country had been arrested and were awaiting trial under “miserable conditions.”
Torture in Tunisian Prisons
TUNIS — The head of a campaign group says dozens of prisoners have been tortured in Tunisia since a revolution toppled the country’s autocratic ruler last year.
Victims included political activists and criminals, said Radhia Nasraoui, president of Tunisia’s Organisation Against Torture. Women, children and elderly people were assaulted in police stations after protests over living standards last month in the central city of Sidi Bouzid, she said.
A man died in hospital in the capital, Tunis, on Monday after he was beaten by police following his arrest for theft, his lawyer, Abd Elhak Triki, said. Four police officers were arrested after the interior ministry in Tunisia confirmed the man had died of concussion.
It was the first death from abuse in custody to be reported in the country since the overthrow in January last year of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose officials had long been accused of torturing prisoners by global human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
That case and the new torture allegations could embarrass the new government led by the Islamist party Ennahda, which has pledged to respect human rights and ensure proper treatment of prisoners, and relies on financial aid from the West.
Ms Nasraoui said the allegations could also hinder efforts to secure the extradition of Ben Ali loyalists who had fled abroad.
“After the revolution, the torture did not stop in prisons and police stations, it became an endemic phenomenon which is sad for Tunisia,” she said on Tuesday.
“We recorded dozens of cases of torture in the prisons. The torture includes men, women, children and the elderly.” A justice ministry spokesman denied the allegations. “The situation is bad in prisons due to the outdated buildings and equipment shortages sometimes, but not to the extent of talking about the torture of prisoners,” he said.
However, Ms Nasraoui’s allegations were backed by Amnesty.
“Violations did not stop and there have been several cases of ill-treatment and also torture in Tunisia after the revolution,” said Lotfi Azzouz, executive director of the group’s Tunisian branch.
Ms Nasraoui, a lawyer, produced photographs of alleged torture victims, including a young man with a badly bruised face and another with bruises on his body. She said her information came from interviews with victims, and photographs were provided by victims or their families.
She said methods of torture her independent organisation had recorded included beatings with fists and sticks, and victims being dragged along the ground. Police have begun to feel above the law, she added.
Ms Nasraoui said torture victims included three politicians from opposition parties who were arrested after demonstrations over unemployment in Tunis and Seliana last month, and four trade unionists detained after they demanded better healthcare at a hospital in the city of Sfax.
The rumours say that you only get out of Tunisian prison if you pay bribes.
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