Today, while clashes between police and protesters erupted on and around Habib Bourguiba Avenue, families of the martyrs and wounded of the revolution gathered at the seat of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) in downtown Tunis.
Along with family members, lawyers and civil society groups were present to discuss the delay in political action on martyr’s families demands and the justice system’s lack of progress in the martyrs’ cases.
Martyrs’ Day commemorates the events of April 9, 1938, when the arrest of a leader of the Neo-Destour (New Constitution) Party sparked a popular demonstration. The day ended in violent suppression by French policemen, who fired on demonstrators, killing at least 22 people and wounding 150 others.
In post-revolutionary Tunisia, this day has taken on new significance, with 300 Tunisian killed during the 2011 uprising and two to three thousand more wounded. Ali Ben Salem, a human rights militant since the 1960s who was jailed under both Bourguiba and Ben Ali, said that martyrs of last year’s revolution should be considered on the same level as militants against the French protectorate, because they freed Tunisia from Ben Ali’s dictatorship.
The unresolved cases of the martyrs of the Revolution has been an ongoing source of debate, posing questions as to the efficacy of transitional justice in Tunisia. Just two weeks ago, a protest organized by the Association of Martyrs of the Revolution, the Tunisian Pirate Party, and the Tunisian Party was held in front of the Ministry of Justice in Tunis.
The families of the martyrs, as well as members of civil society, are unhappy with the slow pace of justice. Hatem Helali, a wounded of the revolution present at today’s conference, said, “I am ignored by everybody, while the killers run free.” The persons present at the meeting called for government medical care, and for a speedier resolution for the trials of those involved in killings during the revolution.
A lawyer present at the conference, Leila Hadded, deplored the fact that “for each hundred martyrs who were killed, only one cop is arrested, while the others are free. We want to know who gave orders to shoot the protestors.”
According to Charfeddine El Kelil, a lawyer from the Group of 25, the Ministry of the Interior is at the source of the deadlock concerning the martyrs’ cases.
Meriem Mnaouer, president of the political party Hizb Ettounsi (Tunisian Party), explained that the martyrs’ cause is explosive, and problematic for the current government. If the cases were to be fully investigated, several ministers and “safety directors” within the Ministry of the Interior – and maybe even within the army – would fall, according to Mnaouer.
Imen Béfaoui, another lawyer from the Group of 25, expressed disappointment in the military tribunals – in charge of dealing with the martyrs’ cases. She said the tribunals were trying to turn it into strictly a “monetary affair.” “But the families don’t just want monetary compensation, they want the real culprits,” she said. Béfaoui explained how politics had marred the proceedings. “They [the decision-makers] know that it is a sensitive subject, and they are trying to close the affair at all costs.”
Imed Ganouni, vice-president of the Association of Martyrs of the Revolution, said that he had been arrested the day before yesterday, and would be tried on April 24th for spurious charges. The president of the association, Adel Ben Hzez, has received phone call threats.
Meriem Mnaouer claims to have received threats for her involvement with the martyrs’ cause, and intends to file for political asylum in France.
Ahmed Jaouadi contributed to writing this article.