In Tunisia, concern among lawyers after the arrests of two of their own and suspicions of “torture”

Anger is brewing among Tunisian lawyers, who demonstrated in black dresses on Thursday, May 16 in Tunis, to protest against the arrests of their colleagues Sonia Dahmani and Mehdi Zagrouba

In Tunisia, concern among lawyers after the arrests of two of their own and suspicions of “torture”

Anger is brewing among Tunisian lawyers, who demonstrated in black dresses on Thursday, May 16 in Tunis, to protest against the arrests of their colleagues Sonia Dahmani and Mehdi Zagrouba. The latter was also said to have suffered physical violence from the police during his arrest on Monday May 13 at the headquarters of the National Order of Tunisian Lawyers, where he had taken refuge. His lawyers speak of “serious acts of torture”.

“What a magnificent country, of torture and tyranny,” chanted the hundreds of lawyers and members of civil society organizations present in front of the courthouse, in reference to the sarcastic remarks made by lawyer and columnist Sonia Dahmani during of a television show. It was these comments that led to her being arrested on Saturday May 11, before being indicted and imprisoned. “What extraordinary country are we talking about? The one that half of young people want to leave? “, she retorted to another columnist who claimed that sub-Saharan migrants were seeking to “colonize” Tunisia.

Lawyer Mehdi Zagrouba, present in court on Monday to support his colleague when she was to be heard, was accused by the Ministry of the Interior of violence and verbal attacks against the police, version that his defense denies. The same evening, while he had taken refuge at the headquarters of the Order, he was taken away by agents of the national guard and placed in police custody. Images posted on social networks following the arrest show broken windows and doors. A few days earlier, in the same place, the brutal arrest of Sonia Dahmani by plainclothes and hooded agents had been filmed live on France 24 and caused controversy.

“Clear traces of violence”

The case took a more serious turn when Mehdi Zagrouba appeared before the investigating judge on Wednesday, after his police custody, in a seriously deteriorated state of health, according to Bassem Trifti, the president of the Tunisian League for Human Rights. “We noted obvious traces of violence and torture on his body, while the investigating judge and the prosecution refused to subject him to a medical examination,” he was indignant, specifying that a warrant from filing against Mr. Zagrouba was issued while the latter was lying on the ground, unconscious. Traces of violence would have been noted and recorded by the investigating judge, and a complaint for torture was to be filed the same day, said Essia Haj Salem, another defense lawyer, on IFM radio. She denounced a “methodical torture operation”.

Faced with these accusations, the Ministry of the Interior threatened legal action against people who make “unfounded allegations”, according to its spokesperson, Faker Bouzghaya, who spoke on the same radio. “They claim that there were acts of torture to evade justice,” he retorted. “Recent events do not concern the legal profession, but those who dared to denigrate and devalue their country in the media and those who attacked a police officer,” Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed also justified in a statement. published on the night of Wednesday to Thursday, adding that “the Tunisian state was required to guarantee each detainee the right to human treatment while preserving their dignity.”

The European Union, the United States and France protested against the recent wave of arrests which also affected two well-known columnists and leaders of migrant aid associations. Critics that Mr. Saïed lambasted in another video, denouncing “unacceptable foreign interference”.

Following his coup of July 25, 2021 where he gave himself full powers, Kaïs Saïed managed to weaken all the intermediary bodies, political parties, unions, civil society organizations and media, accused of collusion with foreign powers. In addition, more than twenty lawyers have been “targeted” by the Tunisian authorities since January 2023, according to the organization Amnesty International, which denounced at the end of March “judicial harassment and increasing intimidation” against them .