Tunisia: A procedure that “transforms the victim” of rape “into the accused”

Zeyneb Farhat, ATFD.
(Photo: Isart)

Tunisian civil society is rallying in support of a 27 years-old woman who accused two policemen of raping her on September 3. The woman and her fiancé were summoned by a judge on Wednesday to face charges of “indecency” brought by those officers. Leading non governmental organizations, including the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD) and the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH), have formed a committee to co-ordinate a campaign to defend the couple.

The civil society organizations slammed the summons for “indecency”, which they described as a procedure that “transforms the victim into the accused” and was “designed to frighten and to force her and her fiancé to waive their rights.” They also questioned “the seriousness of the government's commitment to applying the national plan to combat violence against women.”

“In the end, this woman was raped three times: when she was taken from the car, a private space; when the policemen assaulted her, and when the justice system turned her into the accused,” noted Zeyneb Farhat, a prominent member of the ATFD for over 20 years.

In an interview with the French news organization France 24, her fiancé said the couple was arrested in their car. The policemen demanded money from them, handcuffed him, and took the woman in the back of the car where they raped her, he said. The two officers are now sitting in jail awaiting trial.

The woman and her fiancé were summoned by a magistrate to face the two jailed policemen, who accuse her of “indecency”.

The hearing was adjourned until next Tuesday. The civil society organizations urged rights activists to stand in solidarity with the accused, as social media networks called for a demonstration outside the court in Tunis on that day. The woman and her boyfriend face a six-month jail sentence if they are found guilty.

Tunisian feminists have decried the treatment of women by police since Islamist party Ennahda came to power in October 2011. Activists say women are regularly harassed by law enforcement officials for their choice of attire or for going out at night without the supervision of male relatives.

There were protests in August after news emerged that Tunisia's new constitution, currently being drafted by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), would replace the term “equality” between men and women with “complementary”. The vague wording would, activists feared, pave the way for the erosion of the progressive legal rights Tunisian women have enjoyed since 1956.

Pressure from civil society finally forced the NCA to back down on Monday, according to media reports.

Tunisia Live: http://bit.ly/SFbOWF
Al Jazeera: http://aje.me/OWu2lK
AFP: http://bit.ly/Qb3cll
Al-Monitor: http://bit.ly/S3jz99
France24: http://f24.my/QJJRYY