Letter on (In)Justice in Tunisia by Hind Meddeb

la-journaliste-hind-meddeb-s-explique-apres-avoir-fui-la-justice-en-tunisie,M114081The Tunisian poet & scholar Abdelwahab Meddeb forwarded me the following letter by his daughter Hind Meddeb, a cinematographer & journalist. It goes to the heart of the matter of how in Tunisia, the country where it started, the Arab Spring is being shunted toward yet another authoritarian police regime.

This Monday, June 17, I didn’t show up at the police summons…

Yesterday I left Tunisia because I lost faith in the system of justice. A system that incarcerates a rapper for 2 years, guilty of writing a song, and releases those who attacked the US embassy last September.

The facts

A few minutes before entering court for his trial, the rapper Weld El 15 said: “I turn myself in today  because I need to know if my country is falling back into  dictatorship. This is a test. A test for the system of justice. The verdict will tell where we stand today in Tunisia.”

(Here is the link to see the 45-minute documentary directed by Karim Kouki https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2LBQmK81OY)

The verdict fell. The magistrates exited the courtroom. At first I didn’t hear it. I asked. “2 years firm!!” People were screaming. I was in shock. We all vehemently expressed our indignation. The police officers started to push us out violently. One grabbed my arm. I was angry. I told him: “Now I understand the meaning of the song better.” Much later, I learnt that after my arrest, they gazed everyone, including journalists.

The policeman who grabbed me, screamed “you support Weld El 15, you’ll join him in jail.” They locked me in a cell next to my friend Alaa Eddine Yaacoubi, aka Weld El 15. When he saw me arrested, he panicked. Him worrying about me calmed me down. I apologized. “As a journalist, I shouldn’t have express my opinion like that, but Weld El 15 is a friend and I was carried away by the emotion.” They didn’t accept my excuses. They told me I would spend 2 years in prison with my friend Alaa. My reaction was an insult not only to the police but also to the judge. It was punishable of 2 years in jail. The same judge will make sure to lock me up.

I didn’t protest that the judge had already left the courtroom.

“It’s not because you’re a journalist or French that you won’t be punished. You’ll pay for your support to Weld El 15. Tonight, you’ll sleep in prison”.

I was terrified. I apologized more, tried to reason with them, but they refused to listen. I was left there for  three hours. I could just hear more people getting arrested, beaten up. I could hear the screams, the violence.

Suddenly, they came back with a different tone, saying I will be released. They just needed to take me to the police station for the record. We were six in the police van. Among the people arrested, my friends the rapper Mr Moustafa and the rapper turned graphic designer Ayman Mohammed. When the police saw that we knew each others, they separated us.

At the police station, they isolated me to hear my deposition. They presented me a document written in classical arabic. I can’t read Arabic, I only speak the dialect. I refused to sign, asking to contact a lawyer or someone from my family that could translate it for me. They read it to me, translating it into dialectal arabic. I contested several points. But they refused to change anything, repeating “if you don’t sign, we bring you back to the cell.” The pressure was unbearable. I gave in. I am inexperienced, naive. I signed a paper I couldn’t read. They didn’t even give me a copy. Only a convocation to appear at the police station Monday, June 17 at 8:30. According to the document, I will then be driven to the prosecutor.

I was out. It was 7pm. I got arrested at 2:30.

Weld El 15’s lawyer, Ghazi Mrabet, my friends, the bloggers Azyz Amami and Lina Ben Mhenni and the rapper Abdesslem Naouali aka Phenix joined me few minutes later.

The next day, I asked Ghazi Mrabet and Maitre Abada Kefi to take my defense at the hearing on Monday June 17. We decided that we would have a common defense with the 6 other detainees.

Given these procedural flaws and the lack of information on the charges that were brought against me; given the recent decisions of the Tunisian justice indulgent with the Salafists, fierce with artists, incarcerating a rapper for a song, while leaving free those who have rampaged embassies (see rampage of U.S. Embassy) or killed political opponents (Belaïd Chokri), I decided not to present myself at the hearing on June 17 and continue my fight for freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience from Paris. We need to fight against the establishment of a new dictatorship. At the end of the court, Master Kouthayr Bouallegue (one of the lawyers who defended Weld el 15, the one who gave the latter pleading) told the press: “This verdict is outrageous, today is the first step toward dictatorship. “

Tunisians revolted and overthrew the regime of Ben Ali because of the abuse of the police repression and the lack of freedom of expression. But two years after the revolution, the police has not yet been reformed, it is still an instrument of political repression and not a police designed to ensure security in the city.

Tunisia now has the opportunity to show the world that it can be governed by the founding principles of the revolution. Its uprising  had a profound effect on all the Arab peoples. Our country is in a position to be the promoter of Human rights.

For all these reasons, I address this petition to the Tunisian justice: “FREE Weld el 15.”

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1 Response

  1. Poo says:

    Ms. Hind Meddeb’s experience confirms my original worries of 3 years ago. I wrote somewhere, perhaps here, that the gun was merely going to change hands. I mean, who really cares who’s pulling the trigger if the damn thing is loaded? She has my sympathies, but likely only 2 choices, stay away or return to protest/fight risking jail or death. Paris would always be my choice and one hopes it remains hers as well.

    I feared that the Arab Spring would turn out to be Winter for the Coptic Christians and even worse for Liberal Democracy. Alas, it has worked out pretty much that way.

    Egypt got most of the attention at the time and still occupies the headlines. The appointment of an ex-militant group member as Governor of Luxor caught my attention and adds yet another negative reminder to my list.

    Angry tourism workers and activists in Luxor have attempted to block the newly appointed Islamist governor from his office. Adel el-Khayat still maintains strong links to a militant group that killed 58 people in a 1997 attack in the ancient city. More than 1,200 people died in the campaign of violence by the group and another militant organization, Islamic Jihad.

    The new Gov in Luxor is a member of the Construction and Development party, the political arm of Gamaa Islamiya. This is the group that, beginning in 1992, waged an armed insurgency against the state by attacking police, Coptic Christians and tourists. All seem likely qualifications for Governor. Tourism is the lifeblood of Luxor and all this violence in the area quite naturally had a devastating impact on Egypt’s sightseeing industry. You think?

    The new Governor was named, not elected, to the provincial post by President Mohammed Morsi. El-Khayat’s appointment is seen as a move by Morsi to solidify his support among hard-liners and is but one of 17 new governors he has appointed. Count on them all being liberal and democratic too!

    The horrific memories of the “Luxor Massacre” are understandably still fresh in the minds of residents. They also quite rightfully worry about the impact of a hard-line Islamist running the southern city and its surrounding province. You see, El-Khayat’s party calls for strict implementation of Islamic Shariah law, which includes imposing an Islamic dress code for women, banning alcohol and preventing the mixing of the sexes. Wow, a tourist destination if I ever heard one! Workers in a city as heavily dependent on tourism as Luxor worry that such policies would further hurt their declining business. I am stunned! Tourism is the main employer in the province of about 1 million people. In fact, it is practically the only industry besides farming. There is but one factory and that processes the region’s sugar cane crop.

    Hopefully such behavior will result in a reduction from the $1 billion the U.S. sends yearly to this despotic, corrupt and potentially dangerous regime. Happily, we here and the Great White North have reduced our contributions to a measly $9 million, barely enough to house and clothe Morsi and family. One can only hope it is even small enough to make $0 visible on the horizon.

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