Tunisian Ex-Dictator’s Allies Fight Efforts to Seek Justice

from The Wall Street Journal,

Human rights commission in the Arab Spring’s sole democracy battles fallen regime’s remnants over punishment for past abuses.

A historic effort to reckon with the abuses from Tunisia’s fallen dictatorship is pressing ahead despite opposition from that regime’s remnants, presenting a test for the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring. From its inception in 2014, Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission was a powerful symbol of how former autocratic regimes could be held accountable for crimes committed before the 2010-2011 uprisings across the Middle East. Tunisia’s attempt to seek justice has stood out in a region where authoritarian leaders from Egypt to Syria are cementing their grip on power or mired by conflict like in Libya and Yemen. But now the Tunisian commission, which is comprised of civil-society figures, is racing against time after parliament this spring voted to shut it down by Dec. 31. The panel held its final hearing earlier this month, concluding an extraordinary series of public events in which victims offered impassioned testimony of past torture, rape and other abuses under ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Rached Jaidane, 55, who was imprisoned for 13 years on charges of plotting to overthrow the Ben Ali government, told the commission that he was beaten so badly his teeth fell out. His jailers ripped out his fingernails and subjected him to electric shocks while he hung suspended by his hands and feet, a technique known in Tunisia as “roast chicken.” Mr. Jaidane said the commission’s race to start criminal prosecutions gave him hope that he and his fellow political prisoners could hold their torturers to account. Like many other Tunisians, he said he was willing to reconcile with the men who tortured him, but only if they confess. “Winning is applying the law,” he said. That mission appears to be succeeding against all odds. Arrayed against the truth commission are former Ben Ali allies, now governing in a fragile coalition with an Islamist party. The commission’s advocates worry those officials will interfere with prosecutions and with the implementation of its recommendations to overhaul the country’s notorious security services.

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