Tunisia: 25 years on, no sign of justice for Faysal Baraket’s death under torture

By Bénédicte Goderieaux, North Africa Researcher at Amnesty International

Saturday 8 October marks 25 years since Faysal Baraket was tortured to death in a police station in the coastal town of Nabeul after he spoke out against police brutality. He was just 25 years old and had been studying for a degree in mathematics and physics at Tunis University.

Faysal Baraket’s case is emblematic of the widespread torture and other ill-treatment that became a hallmark of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s rule, and the extraordinary lengths to which the Tunisian authorities went to stall investigations and cover up crimes committed by state agents. For Faysal’s family, the pain they continue to suffer at his loss, is compounded by the lingering injustice hanging over his case.

A quarter of a century later, not a single person suspected of committing, ordering or acquiescing to torturing Faysal Baraket has been brought to justice. As part of an ongoing judicial investigation, opened in 2009 – the fourth one initiated in this case – some police officers were summoned for questioning, but none has turned up to be heard by the judge in charge of investigating Faysal Baraket’s death. His brother, Jamel, says that “they continue to lead a normal life without having to hide, in defiance of the judiciary”.

A quarter of a century later, not a single person suspected of committing, ordering or acquiescing to torturing Faysal Baraket has been brought to justice
Bénédicte Goderieaux, North Africa Researcher at Amnesty International

The investigation initially appeared to be progressing after the ousting of Ben Ali. Faysal Baraket’s remains were exhumed in March 2013, in the presence of his family, Tunisian judges and forensic doctors, British forensic pathologist Dr Derrick Pounder and Amnesty International delegates. The exhumation revealed further forensic evidence of his torture which was added to the judicial investigation, raising hopes that at long last justice for his killing would finally be served.  Yet three years later there is still no conclusion and hopes of progress are also fading.

Faysal Baraket, who wasa member of the then outlawed Islamist opposition party Ennahda, had criticized, in a television interview broadcast on 8 March 1991, the government's handling of clashes between students and the police which had left several students dead. He was forced to go into hiding and was sentenced in absentia to six months' imprisonment for offences that included membership of an illegal organization. Seven months later, on 1 October, police officers arrested his brother Jamal, apparently to put pressure on Faysal to surrender. Jamal was repeatedly tortured in detention. Less than a week later, Faysal Baraket was arrested at his hideout.

After his death, the Tunisian authorities orchestrated a cover up to hide his torture, claiming that he had died in a car accident. But from as early as January 1992 Amnesty International gathered evidence from witnesses who said they heard Faysal Baraket screaming as he was tortured and beaten for hours in the Nabeul Police Station. Later they saw him slumped in a corridor, unconscious. His body was contorted in the position used in the “roast chicken” torture method – where the victim is tied to a horizontal pole with hands and feet crossed over and tied together. His face was bruised and had cuts around the eyes.

An autopsy report obtained by Amnesty International and examined by renowned forensic expert Dr Derrick Pounder, revealed that Faysal had been raped with an object and that his feet and buttocks had been badly beaten. The injuries pointed to a pattern of systematic physical assault. The conclusion: there was no way Faysal Baraket’s death was caused by a traffic accident.

It is utterly indefensible that in the face of such blatant evidence and after so many years, no one has been held accountable for his death. It was only after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s rule came to an end that the exhumation of Faysal Baraket’s remains was finally carried out - 14 years after it had been recommended by the UN Committee against Torture.

It is utterly indefensible that in the face of such blatant evidence and after so many years, no one has been held accountable for his death
Bénédicte Goderieaux, North Africa Researcher at Amnesty International

But the danger now is that this legacy of impunity may continue to fuel torture and other ill-treatment in Tunisia today. In January 2016, Amnesty International uncovered new evidence of deaths in custody and torture, showing these crimes are persisting. Since 2011, there have been at least six deaths in custody which have not been effectively investigated or where no criminal prosecution has come about.

It is high time for Tunisia to break with its past and to deliver justice to Faysal Baraket’s family, and for the many other torture victims of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali rule, as well as for those who have been tortured since his rule came to an end. 

The Tunisian authorities must fully cooperate with judicial investigations into deaths in custody and torture, including by ensuring that security officers who have been summoned for questioning are brought before investigators. Judicial investigations must be conducted thoroughly, independently, impartially and with due diligence. For this kind of brutality to end, suspected perpetrators must be brought to justice.

Only then will it be possible to restore the trust of the Tunisian people in the justice system and the security forces.

This piece was first published by Huffington Post Maghreb here