Last Updated: Sun Feb 06, 2011 15:11 pm (KSA) 12:11 pm (GMT)

Ben Ali to face trial over ex-president cruel death

Habib Bourguiba was detained till death for 13 years
Habib Bourguiba was detained till death for 13 years

In addition to the several charges he faces which range from corruption, plundering his country's national resources and threatening state security, ousted Tunisian President Zein El Abedin Ben Ali is now accused of abusing his predecessor Habib Bourguiba.

Lawyer Allala al-Rajichi filed a lawsuit at the court of first instance in Monastir, the birthplace of late Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba, against Ben Ali for the mistreatment and imprisonment to death of Bourguiba, the Tunisian newspaper al-Sabah reported Thursday.

In the lawsuit memorandum, Rajichi stated that after staging a coup on November 6, 1987 and assuming power, Ben Ali arrested Bourguiba with the help of other government figures who later assumed prominent positions in the new government, and detained him at the Governor’s Mansion in Monastir for 13 years until he died.

Rajichi enumerates the different kinds of mistreatment to which Bouguiba was subjected to. It started with “throwing him into the car like a sheep” when he was arrested.

According to Rajichi, the abuse of Bouguiba was not restricted to mistreatment, which amounted to beatings, but it also extended to negligence of his medical condition. The deterioration of his health included the rottenness of one of his fingers, he said.

Bouguiba was given meager amounts of food on which led to him to starve, Rajichi added, including the shabby clothes he wore.

He accused Ben Ali of stealing all the gifts Bourguiba received from heads of state which were kept in a museum in Monastir, an offence punishable by article 260 of the penal code.

In addition to mistreatment of Bourguiba, Ben Ali and his aides are accused of arrest without warrant under gunpoint and detention for more than one month without trial, punishable by article 251 of the penal code.

Cases emerge

 The house was under construction. One day, an official close to Ben Ali came by and found it pretty. And he took it 
A farmer from Mahdia region

Behind the shabby walls of a nondescript building in Tunis, Taoufik Bouderbala is tasked with perhaps one of the most distressing jobs of the new government: investigating 23 years of abuses committed by the former regime on thousands of Tunisians.

Surrounded by the smell of stale coffee and sweat, Bouderbala, a trained lawyer, is leading an inquiry into abuses and crimes committed under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Already, in just a matter of days, he has received thousands of complaints.

On this particular day, the crowds milled around the iron gates leading to the building, restlessly waiting their turn to apply for compensation for offences committed by Ben Ali and his henchmen.

Others simply wanted to describe what they had suffered under Ben Ali's rule.

"There is impatience and an incredible thirst for justice," said Bouderbala.

"We are going to investigate, hear out the victims, the witnesses, but also the suspects," he added.

Mehdi Benahassen had waited since 4:00 a.m for his turn.

At 54, the farmer from Mahdia region dared to hope that he finally had a chance of getting even with the old regime -- and recovering land he said a corrupt official had stolen from him.

"I have been fighting for 20 years," he said, having taken the case to court three times between 1990 and 1994.

"The tribunal didn't even look at my property deeds," he said. "Instead, they just said they had lost my file."

Twenty-four year-old student Nabil Ben Brahim came from the outskirts of Tunis to try to recover a house that his ailing father had built in 2006, investing his entire life savings.

"The house was under construction. One day, an official close to Ben Ali came by and found it pretty. And he took it."

The interim government has launched investigations into the abuses committed during Ben Ali's regime.

Probing latest abuses

 They gave me electric shocks and beat me with a Koran 
Oualid Guidara

They are also looking into the violence the security forces inflicted on protesters during the month-long uprising, during which at least 200 were killed and more than 500 injured in clashes with police.

On the building's second floor meanwhile, a clerk was recording the account of Wissem Sessi, a construction worker who injured during a protest.

He had had his leg broken in two places, he said. That meant he could not work and and had no way of putting food on the table for his wife and three children.

Nearby, files and documents were piled up on a narrow table.

The clerk opened one at random, which contained the photo of a young man.

"Killed by a sniper in northern Tunis," he read. The photo showed a clean entry wound, just above his heart.

In the hallway, Oualid Guidara, 31, waited his turn to apply for compensation.

He told how a policeman had arrested and tortured on January 12 after he refused to give way to pressure on his family to pay him money.

"They gave me electric shocks and beat me with a Koran," he said.

Despite the visible signs of fatigue on the officials' faces, during breaks they engaged in lively debates over how to build the new, democratic Tunisia.

But as one of them summed up: "We need to move fast, because people are angry."

(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)

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