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President Marzouki apologises to Tunisian woman raped by police

The Tunisian woman raped by two policemen still faces charges of 'indecency'

Bassem Aly, Ahram Online, Friday 5 Oct 2012
Marzouki
Protesters chant slogans during a demonstration against charges of indecency filed against a woman raped by two police officers, in front of the court in Tunis October 2, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)
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Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki gave a formal 'state apology' to the woman who was raped by two policemen in September, after meeting the woman and her fiancé on Thursday at the palace in Carthage.

Marzouki denounced the episode "as a grave prejudice which touches all Tunisian men and women" during his meeting with the victim and her fiancé that was attended by human rights activist Siham Ben Sedrin. 

"There is no more tolerance in Tunisia for rapists, for those covering them or attempting to change the facts", said the president. He also praises the "just" police officers who refused to cover for their colleagues who had raped the woman.

The presidency issued a statement to express "sympathy and apology" to all Tunisians concerning the scandal that has shocked the public during the post-revolutionary period.

The recently-jailed policemen said that the 27-year-old woman was accused of indecency as she was seen with her fiancé in an "immoral position" just before the attack occurred.

The woman and her fiancé were summoned by a magistrate to face the rapist policemen on Tuesday for investigation purposes that took more than two hours. The magistrate is due to decide whether the victim and her fiancé should be charged.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, from the ruling Islamist party Ennahda, said earlier this week that the policemen, arrested shortly after the incident and now awaiting trial, would be “severely judged.” But he also said there may be a case of indecency to answer.

Since the Islamist Ennahda party rose to power after last year's revolution, feminist groups have accused police of regularly harassing women, by challenging them over their clothing, or if they go out at night unaccompanied by family members.

The case saw protests by Tunisian civil society groups, NGOs, and opposition figures, to express their outrage against such human rights violations.

The NGOs, including the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women and the Tunisian League of Human Rights, slammed the summons for indecency, which they described as a procedure that "transforms the victim into the accused."

It is "designed to frighten and to force her and her fiancé to waive their rights," they added.

They also questioned "the seriousness of the government's commitment to applying the national plan to combat violence against women."

A coalition of leftwing opposition parties also condemned the actions of the police.

"Rape as a means of repression is still practised in Tunisia," they said, calling for a law to protect "Tunisian men and women against all forms of physical, moral and sexual violence."

According to AFP, MP Karima Souid, who belongs to Ettakatol, a centre-left group that partners the Islamist party Ennahda in Tunisia's ruling coalition, denounced her party's support for the government in protest at the proceedings against the rape victim.

"I completely dissociate myself from this government. The rape case and the summoning of the victim this morning is the last straw," she wrote on Facebook

Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche told AFP that the ministry "had nothing to do with" the proceedings against the young woman, emphasising that the decision to summon her was taken by the magistrate.

"In this case, we acted as was required of us. What had to be done was done, and the three police agents were arrested straight away," he said, insisting that cases of police assaulting women were "isolated."

"We shouldn't read into this anything organised, or generalised," he added. "The police are also citizens first and foremost, and when they commit crimes, the law is applied unequivocally."

Ennahda also provoked a storm of protest for proposing an article in the new constitution that referred to the "complementarity" of men to women rather than their equality.

Many saw the proposed article, which was abandoned on Monday, as a ploy by Islamists to reverse the principle of gender equality that made Tunisia a beacon of modernity in the Arab world when it was introduced six decades ago.

 

Information in this story was corrected and updated on 6 October, 2012 thanks to our reader Myriam.

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