Tunisia: British pathologist in 22-year campaign over student torture death

New report on case that ‘marks a symbolic moment for hundreds of other torture victims of Ben Ali’s regime’ - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui

A 22-year-long campaign to uncover the truth about the death of a Tunisian student tortured to death in police custody in 1991 must result in his killers being brought to justice, said Amnesty International today (8 October), as it published a report on the case of Faysal Baraket .

Key facts about the death of Baraket - a 25-year-old student who died exactly 22 years ago on 8 October 1991 - have come to light partly through the dogged work of a British forensic pathologist - Dr Derrick Pounder, Professor of Forensic Medicine at the University of Dundee.

Baraket, a politically-active mathematics and physics student at Tunis University, was arrested on 8 October 1991 after he criticised the Tunisian authorities during a television interview. His body was later taken to hospital by the police, who claimed he had died in a road traffic accident.

Amnesty’s 30-page report - Tunisia: when bones speak - the struggle to bring Faysal Baraket’s torturers to justice - describes how the Tunisian authorities orchestrated a cover-up of the death only for this to later fall apart. After Baraket’s death, Amnesty gathered evidence from witnesses who said they heard him screaming as he was tortured and beaten for hours in a police station in Nabeul governorate. Later they saw him slumped unconscious in a corridor with his body contorted in a position associated with a specific kind of torture. Meanwhile, Baket’s brother Jamal was arrested several days earlier and also repeatedly tortured in detention.

After examining the autopsy report in February 1992, Dr Pounder concluded that the student’s death could not have been caused by a traffic accident. Instead he found evidence that he’d been sodomised and also identified a pattern of injury consistent with a systematic physical assault. The report also noted that his feet and buttocks had been badly beaten.

Baraket’s body was finally exhumed this March, two years after the fall of the former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Subsequent tests provided further forensic evidence that Baraket had been tortured. Dr Pounder was present at the exhumation in the town of Manzil Bouzalfa in Nabeul governorate, more than two decades on from the death and his original investigation.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“Faysal Baraket’s exhumation represents a significant step towards achieving justice for his death. Justice must now be served to bring his family’s ordeal to an end.

“His case also marks a symbolic moment for hundreds of other torture victims of Ben Ali’s regime. All those responsible for torture, including those behind Faysal Baraket’s death, must be brought to justice without further delay.”

Background

Under former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, thousands of Tunisia’s government critics - including political opponents, journalists, lawyers and human rights activists - were arbitrarily arrested, held in incommunicado detention and imprisoned after unfair trials. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees was widespread.

A comprehensive framework to ensure justice for such crimes has yet to be established. Some positive steps have been taken but progress on reform has stalled in recent months.  Laws to establish a national mechanism to prevent torture and a commission to investigate human rights violations, have been discussed but not yet been adopted. Human rights violations in Tunisia have continued on a smaller scale since the fall of Ben Ali.

  • Read report:  Tunisia - When bones speak (PDF)

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