Khaled Ben Saïd, former Tunisian Vice-consul in France, condemned for torture by the Criminal court of Strasbourg

Press release
en fr

FIDH and LDH warmly welcome the decision delivered on Monday 15 December 2008 by the Cour d’assises (Criminal court) of the Bas-Rhin, holding Khaled Ben Saïd criminally responsible for having given instructions to commit crimes of torture on the person of the plaintiff, Mrs Gharbi. Mr. Ben Saïd was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment.

Zoulaikha Gharbi, who currently lives in France with her husband, a political refugee, lodged a complaint in May 2001 against the diplomat, whom she had recognized as the chief of the Jendouba police station, where she was tortured under his orders in October 1996 [1]. Informed about the procedure initiated against him, Khaled Ben Saïd immediately fled to Tunisia, where he allegedly continues to work for the Home Office. FIDH and LDH became civil parties in support of Mrs. Gharbi in 2002.

"After more than seven years of investigation full of obstacles, mainly because of the lack of cooperation of the Tunisian authorities, the French justice has recognized the acts of torture perpetrated against Mrs Gharbi as well as the guilt of Mr. Ben Saïd, who has fled to Tunisia, where he remains protected by the regime", declared Eric Plouvier, Mrs Gharbi’s lawyer.

The international arrest warrant, delivered against him by the investigating judge in 2002, keeps all its effects.

"It is an additional positive development in the fight against impunity for perpetrators of torture, through the implementation of the universal jurisdiction mechanism and a strong signal sent to the Tunisian authorities: the criminals, if they are safe in Tunisia, are not in other countries", declared Patrick Baudouin, FIDH and LDH lawyer.

This decision, rendered while the accused was not present, followed debates during which Mr Ben Saïd was duly defended by a French lawyer. "This exemplary trial that took place according to the rules of a fair trial, which are not applied in Tunisia, to the detriment of the Tunisian victims who have no access to justice", declared Radhia Nasraoui, lawyer and President of the Association de lutte contre la torture en Tunisie (ALTT).

This verdict, rendered while the diplomat claimed his innocence through his lawyer and after the General attorney had required the acquittal, is a victory, not only for the civil parties, but beyond for those who are deprived of an effective remedy in their country.

"This decision represents the successful outcome of a long work undertaken by the civil parties, by Tunisian human rights defenders, and permits to recognize the use of torture as an instrument of power", said Sihem Ben Sedrine, spokesperson for the Comité national des libertés en Tunisie (CNLT).

A CNRS (French Scientific Research Committee) mission delegate, Vincent Geisser, summoned to appear as a witness, affirmed that General Ben Ali’s police dictatorship had raised violence as a government principle, and that torture was used less to obtain confessions or information than to terrorize the population.

Facing the French public authorities’ lack of denunciation of the Tunis regime, this Court decision puts into light the reality of the regime, in opposition with the official discourse, and gives an unequivocal answer to the question of the responsibility of Tunisian officials in the recurrent use of torture.

This verdict is the second decision rendered in France on the basis of the universal jurisdiction mechanism [2], which allows to prosecute a person who is on the French territory and is suspected of having committed acts of torture, regardless of the place where the crimes were committed, and of the nationality of the perpetrator or the victims. The Cour d’assises (Criminal Court) of the Bas Rhin has thus confirmed that the application of the universal jurisdiction principle requires the only presence of the accused at the moment of the lodging of the complaint by the victim.

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