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Tunisian Police Blamed for Torturing Young Man to Death

Walid Denguir

Walid Denguir

On 1 November, 34-year-old Walid Denguir was chased and arrested by police before he was driven a police station in the capital Tunis. About one hour later, his mother Faouzia received a phone call from a police officer telling her that her son died of a heart attack.

At Charles Nicole's hospital in Tunis, his mother and family members noticed head injuries and bruises on Denguir's lifeless body. Several photos [warning: graphic: here, here and here] taken of Denguir's body, before he was buried on 3 November, also show signs of torture and ill-treatment.

“His mouth and his nose were bleeding, I touched his forehead and it felt as though his skull was broken because there was a crevice between his forehead and the top of his skull,” Denguir's grieving mother told Human Rights Watch.

Reporter Tom Stevenson confirms:

Denguir's funeral drew angry crowds:

In a statement released on November 3, the Interior Ministry admitted an ‘excessive use of force’ and said that an investigation to ‘identify the reasons’ behind Densguir's death was opened. The ministry added that Denguir was wanted by the authorities for ‘involvement in drug related offenses’ and for ‘forming criminal gangs’.

An autopsy was performed on Walid's body but the results have not been released yet. For Ghazi Mrabet, one of the lawyers representing Denguir's family, this delay is ‘unjustifiable’ [fr]:

Rien au monde ne peut justifier tout ce retard pour que le médecin légiste remette la rapport d'autopsie de Walid Denguir . Quelques petites heures auraient suffit au service d'autopsie de l’hôpital Charles Nicole de mettre la lumière sur les raisons exactes de sa mort . Ce jeune citoyen tunisien est peut être un multirécidiviste ou un malfrat mais rien n'explique cette torture, ce crime organisé… Alors et avant qu'il ne soit trop tard , demandons l'arrestation des policiers qui ont interpellé ou interrogé Walid , n'attendons pas je ne sais quelle enquête administrative interne et arrêtons ces présumés coupables sachant qu'un rapport d'autopsie ne détermine pas les responsables d'une mort mais révèle tout simplement ses raisons . STOP TORTURE !!!!!!

Nothing in this world can justify this delay for the forensic pathologist to release the autopsy report of Walid Denguir. Few hours should be enough for the autopsy department at Charles Nicoles hospital to shed light on the exact reasons behind his death. This young Tunisian citizen might have been a persistent offender or a criminal, but nothing can justify this torture, and this organized crime…So, and before it is too late, let's call for the arrest of the police officers who arrested or interrogated Walid. Let's not wait for an internal administrative investigation to take place to arrest the suspects, bearing in mind that an autopsy does not determine those responsible of a murder but only reveals the reasons of a death. Stop torture!!!!

On November 6, the daily newspaper Al-chourouk reported that preliminary results of the autopsy had revealed that Denguir died of a heart attack after taking an overdose of cannabis. For the Tunisian twittersphere, these allegations are ridiculous and hard to believe.

An overdose of cannabis? No this is not a joke. This is the response of our government to hide the torture of Walid Denguir.

The death of Walid Denguir was the result of an overdose. Of what? Cannabis? This is a first in the world.

Writing for the collective blog Nawaat, Henda Hendoud reminded readers of Anis Omrani and Abderraouf Khammassi, who over the last two years passed away after they were tortured by police [fr]:

En effet, quand il s’agit de torture et surtout de meurtres, les médecins légistes, les magistrats et procureurs de république deviennent moins pertinents et beaucoup plus opaques dans leur traitement. Nous l’avons vu, lors de plusieurs affaires, comme le cas d’Anis Omrani, mort le 15 août 2011, au centre ville de Tunis, lors d’une confrontation entre des manifestants et la police.

Le Ministère de l’Intérieur avait déclaré que le jeune homme s’est suicidé en se jetant du balcon d’un appartement qu’il n’a jamais habité. Alors que des vidéos ont montré un policier en train de lui tirer dessus. Un autre cas similaire est celui d’Abderraouf Khamassi, mort le 8 septembre 2012, après avoir été torturé au siège de la brigade de la police judiciaire de Sidi Hassine à Sijoumi.

Les policiers accusés dans cette affaire étaient visiblement protégés tout au long de l’enquête administrative menée à l’intérieur du Ministère de l’Intérieur. L’autopsie laisse aussi entendre, dans ce dossier, que le décès n’est pas lié à la torture.

In fact, when it is a case of torture that leads to death, forensic pathologists, magistrates and State prosecutors become less discerning and more opaque. We have noticed this during other cases, such as that of Anis Omrani, who died on August 15, 2011, in downtown Tunis during clashes between protesters and police.

The Interior Ministry declared that the young man committed suicide by throwing himself from the balcony of an apartment he never lived in. However, videos showed a police officer shooting at him. Another similar case was that of Abderraouf Khamassi, who died on September 8, 2012, after he had been tortured at the office of the brigade of judicial police in Sidi Hassine in Sijoumi.

The police officers suspects in this case, were clearly protected during the entire administrative investigation conducted inside the Interior Ministry. The autopsy also alleged that the death of Khammassi was not the result of torture.

The death of Denguir in police detention comes as international human rights organizations were welcoming the adoption of a new law on an anti-torture body by the National Constituent Assembly established on October 9.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), described the adoption of this law as ‘a significant step forward towards eradicating torture in Tunisia’.

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