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Former Tunisian Diplomat Sentenced To 8 Years By French Court

Khaled Ben Said, an ex-vice-consul in Strasbourg, was convicted of having ordered acts of torture and barbary upon fellow countrywoman Zulaikha Gharbi when a police superintendent in the Tunisian city of Jendouba 12 years ago, and sentenced to 8 years imprisonment by a criminal court in this same Strasbourg, by the way the seat of the European Court of Human Rights.
The Tunisian diplomat was tried in absence, since he fled from France in 2001, after hearing that a complaint had been lodged against him by Ms. Gharbi, whose husband is a political refugee in France as a member of Tunisian banned islamic party Ennahda. The trial went on account of universal competence, a mechanism allowing legal proceedings against the authors of alleged serious crimes, whatever place they were committed and whatever authors’ or victims’ nationality. This procedure stems from a 1984 UN convention against torture which was introduced into French legislation in 1994.
It is the second time in France that a sentence has been delivered on these grounds. In 2005, a Mauritanian serviceman was sentenced to 10 years for acts of torture perpetrated in his own country.
Tunisiawatch a blog “censored in Tunisia” taking up mainstream medias articles,explains :

[…] En l'absence de l'accusé, le procès auquel la Ligue française des droits de l'homme et la Fédération internationale des droits de l'homme (FIDH) s'étaient constituée parties civiles a aussi été celui du système mis en place par le président Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, au pouvoir depuis vingt et un ans. Plusieurs témoins ont dressé un portrait au vitriol du régime tunisien où, selon eux, la torture est érigée en “pratique d'Etat”.

[…] In the defendant's absence, the trial, in which the [Human Rights Organizations] Ligue française des droits de l'homme (LDH) and Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme (FIDH) brought an independant action for damages, was also the trial of the system established by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has been in power for 21 years. Several witnesses drew a vitriolic picture of the Tunisian regime, where, according to them, torture is made a state practice

These testimonies eventually gained the court's conviction, although the French state's representative had called for acquittal, stressing the utter lack of evidence in the record.
“This is a further advance in the fight against torturers’ impunity and a strong signal to Tunisian authorities ; torturers, if safe in Tunisia, are no longer so in other countries”, commented the Human Rights Organizations’ lawyer.
In a further post, Tunisia Watch adds :

Khaled ben Saïd qui fait l'objet d'un mandat d'arrêt international depuis 2002 n'a pas la possibilité de faire appel puisque l'audience s'est déroulée sans lui. Toutefois s'il est arrêté, il sera rejugé. Au-delà de la peine prononcée soit 8 ans de RC, c'est-à-dire en décembre 2016, il y aura prescription.

Khaled ben Saïd, who is subject to an international arrest warrant since 2002, is in no position to appeal, as the trial was held without his being there. However, if he gets arrested, he will be tried again. Beyond the time of delivered sentenced, namely eight years of criminal imprisonment, i.e. in December 2016, there will be prescription.

Earlier in the day, the Tunisian authorities had denounced the trial as a “complete fabrication” and further said that “claiming torture would be a tolerated practice in Tunisia pertains to dishonesty and
disinformation”.

Nawaat.org portal is a tad bit skeptical while wondering whether the taboo about torture in Tunisia is on the way to being lifted. The blog quotes CNRS researcher Vincent Geissler, who told during the hearings :

“En Tunisie, sous Ben Ali, on torture au nom des droits de l’homme et on viole les femmes en invoquant le droit des femmes”, a également expliqué devant la cour Vincent Geissier. Cette pratique “est destinée à humilier et à diffuser la peur”. Avant d’ajouter : le recours à la torture, “c’est un mode de contrôle de la société”.

“In Tunisia, under Ben Ali, they torture for the sake of human rights and they rape women while putting forward women's rights”, also explained Vincent Geissler to the court. “This practice is devised to humiliate and to spread fear”. Before adding : “it is a way of controling society”

.

Readers voiced their various opinions (Fr.) in the comments section of the local website of newspaper Libération and at leJDD.fr.

One (optimistic) pick :

Rédigé par: GDP : Comme quoi, n'en déplaise à Sarkozy, la justice progresse davantage en France que les droits de l'homme en Tunisie.

GDP : Which just goes to show that, wether Sarkozy likes it or not, justice makes better progress in France than human rights in Tunisia.

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