Tunisia Truth Commission Brings One Court Case in Four Years

Each indictment can have multiple victims or suspects, and the commission said that the 16 submitted covered the cases of 245 victims.

Mr. Matmati’s is one of 194 cases registered by the commission of people who were forcibly disappeared during the dictatorships of Habib Bourguiba, the first president of Tunisia, and his successor, Mr. Ben Ali. Part of the mission of the special court is to question the accused, some of whom spoke in closed hearings with the truth commission but who refused the reconciliation process.

The special court can pass sentence even in torture cases that would usually be past the statute of limitations, such as that of Mr. Matmati. It also has mechanisms to compel defendants to appear, although it does not yet appear to have used them.

Tunisia Truth Commission Brings One Court Case in Four Years
Tunisia Truth Commission Brings One Court Case in Four Years

The testimony at the hearing broke new ground, according to some of those present in the court.

“I wrote down every word of their testimony,” said Samir Dilou, a member of the Islamist party Ennahda, himself a former political prisoner and now a lawyer for Mr. Matmati’s family, “because I have seen so many trials about torture but never heard such admissions.”

A cellmate of Mr. Matmati, Abdellah Ben Amor, graphically described the abuse.

“They would let us hang from a window head down or make us sit on bottles,” he said. “They would even beat us without asking any questions.”

Another cellmate and a key witness, Ali Amri, a doctor, said he had verified Mr. Matmati’s death for his persecutors after they had beaten him to death. The truth commission’s investigation confirmed that Mr. Matmati’s body had been transported to a police hospital in Tunis.

No one could say what had happened after that.

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