The November 1 death of 32-year old Walid Denguir, allegedly at the hands of police, sheds light on a security apparatus and justice system still in need of reform almost three years since Tunisia's revolution.
Last Friday afternoon, Denguir left his family's home in the Bab Jdid neighborhood of Tunis. While details are still emerging, he was quickly arrested by police forces. Less than two hours later, his mother was called and told her son was dead.
At the hospital, Denguir's mother and the family's lawyer, prominent human rights advocate Radhia Nasraoui, saw what they called signs of torture on the body. Denguir's skull reportedly appeared to be cracked and he was covered in bruises. [display_posts type=”related” limit=”3″ position=”right”]
Lotfi Azzouz, director of the Amnesty International Tunisia office, connected Denguir's case to pre-revolutionary abuses and said that the death highlighted the need to reform the Tunisian security and justice sectors.
These cases continue to occur because there is no accountability and punishment is internal, Azzouz said. Offenses by security officials within the Ministry of Interior, he added, usually are not dealt with by Tunisia's criminal system, but rather are handled as internal administrative problems within the ministry.
On November 3, in a statement made through state news agency TAP but since taken down, the Ministry of Interior acknowledged that excessive force was used during Denguir's interrogation and announced that an investigation would be made into his death.
When reached by phone, ministry spokesperson Mohamed Ali Aroui said that they were still waiting for the results of the investigation.
The Sidi el-Bechir police station denied knowing anything about Denguir and refused to answer any questions when called by Tunisia Live. [display_posts type=”same_author” limit=”3″ position=”right”]
Azzouz said Denguir's case was similar to that of Faycel Baraket, a 25-year-old Islamist activist killed while in police custody in 1991 under the rule of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. In that case, medical reports were censored and foreign experts were brought in to examine the body. After 22 years, Baraket's family is still seeking justice.
The autopsy system in Tunisia needs to be reformed, Azzouz said, for the truth to surface in these cases. Yesterday, Tunisian newspaper Al-Chourouk reported that a medical report determined Denguir's death to be drug-related, and not a result of police abuse. The report could not be verified, and members of Denguir’s family dismissed it as a rumor.
A new law passed last month creating a commission to prevent torture will deter more cases like Denguir's, Azzouz said, but more still needs to be done.
Some security laws in Tunisia date back to the era of the Beys, Azzouz said, referring to Tunisia's pre-independence monarchs. The internal structure of the Ministry of Interior is still unclear, he added. If it is unclear who is in charge to an outsider, accountability is difficult.
Security officers think of their job as semi-military, Azzouz said, adding that they need to think of their work as protecting, not attacking, people.
Asma Smadhi contributed reporting.