Tunisian diplomat and torturer sentenced in appeal trial

25/09/2010
Press release
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In a historical sentence delivered yesterday, the Criminal Court of Nancy sentenced Khaled Ben Saïd to 12 years imprisonment for having given instructions to commit crimes of torture on the person of the plaintiff, Mrs. Gharbi, on 11 and 12 October 1996, at the Jendouba police station in Tunisia. The court thereby increased the sentence delivered in first instance by the Strasburg Criminal Court on 15 December 2008.

This emblematic sentence ends the circle of impunity for the crimes of torture committed in Tunisia. The Tunisian torturers are no longer safe from legal proceedings. This decision by the French judges ascertaining the guilt of Ben Saïd shows that political interests cannot supersede the victims’ right to justice”, said Souhayr Belhassen, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). [1]

In May 2001, Zoulaikha Gharbi, who currently lives in France, together with her husband, a political refugee, filed a complaint for torture against Mr. Ben Saïd, a diplomat, whom she recognised as the chief of the Jendouba Police Station where she was tortured, under his orders, in October 1996. After being informed that legal proceedings had been initiated against him, the accused, Khaled Ben Saïd, immediately fled to Tunisia, where he is still working at the Ministry of the Interior.

This trial has shown that torture has been institutionalized as a means to repress all opposition and as a tool of terror” said Omar Mestiri, of the Comité national des libertés en Tunisie (CNLT).

This verdict, just at a time when France is restricting freedoms, shows that an independent judiciary also exists”, stated Mr. Eric Plouvier, Mrs. Gharbi’s lawyer.

Accusations that the civil parties had manipulated the case for political purposes shot back like a boomerang against the defence whose strategy was shown to fail through this increased sentence”, said Patrick Baudouin, Honorary President of FIDH and lawyer for FIDH and LDH (Ligue des droits de l’homme et du citoyen), the two organisations that joined Mrs. Gharbi as civil parties in the proceedings.

This decision is a tribute to the courage of Mrs. Gharbi who has been fighting a legal battle for nine years so that, at last, the truth can be heard.

Although France recently adopted a controversial law restricting the possibility to institute legal proceedings for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, the judges thus reasserted the importance of universal jurisdiction as an indispensable instrument in the fight against impunity,” said Jean-Pierre Dubois, president of LDH. [2]

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