Tunisia: constant doubt and frustration in the Fayçal Baraket case

The trial in the case of Fayçal Baraket, who died under torture in October 1991, is postponed for the third time. The President of the Court did not appear at the hearing. The victim's family is still waiting for justice to be done before the specialized transitional justice chambers.

Tunisia: constant doubt and frustration in the Fayçal Baraket case©Fethi BELAID / AFP
The mother of Baraket holds a portrait requesting a trial for everyone who was tortured and murdered in the jails of the Ministry of the Interior during a meeting of the families of Islamist political prisoners on March 13, 2011 in Tunis.
5 min 2Approximate reading time

"Your honors, Fayçal Baraket's family, the victim, and the lawyers of the civil party protest against this new postponement and against the absence, once again, of the accused. This is not normal. We cannot continue at this pace," lawyer Mokhtar Trifi told the specialized trial chamber in Nabeul, 60 km northeast of Tunis, the capital of Tunisia.

Mr. Trifi, Vice-President of the World Organisation Against Torture (WOAT), former President of the Tunisian Bar Association and of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, a highly respected personality in the country and abroad, is known for his magnanimity and natural leniency. The reasons for his anger on Friday, February 8, are obvious: the trial on the death by torture of Fayçal Baraket in 1991 has just been postponed to March, "because of the absence of the president of the court, currently on leave", as one of the judges stated. The public had been waiting for more than an hour in the courtroom. Fayçal Baraket's family had come in full, including the old mother and grandchildren. The defence lawyers and a strengthened WOAT team had also made the trip, very early, to this town of Cap Bon.

34 defendants, including former President Ben Ali

Camille Henry, WOAT's lobbying and advocacy coordinator, expresses the same disappointment as Mr. Trifi: “We are now driven by a form of constant doubt and frustration that leads us, each time, to wonder at what time the judges of the specialized chambers will start the session and what reason will still be given to postpone the trial. When will trials really begin in these cases of serious human rights violations? The message sent back to us with this type of event is not reassuring.”

In a courtroom that suddenly empties itself of its magistrates, Mokhtar Trifi, who defends several victims of the regime of former President Ben Ali, seems powerless. "Six or seven judges should have been appointed for the specialised chambers and not just five. This problem is in addition to the difficulties in summoning or bringing the defendants, which we have seen since the beginning of the trials investigated by the Truth and Dignity Commission in the context of transitional justice last May," he laments.

The Fayçal Baraket case was referred to the Nabeul court by the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) in April 2018. The first hearing took place on July 6. The case was first postponed to 12 October due to the absence of the accused: 34 individuals, including former President Ben Ali himself, former ministers and several presidential advisers, as well as two judges, two forensic doctors, officers and executives of the Ministry of the Interior. The second postponement was due to the lack of logistics for recording the trial, a request from Fayçal Baraket's family and in particular from his brother, Jamel Baraket, who has been campaigning for almost 30 years for justice to be done.

The ordeal of the two Baraket brothers

Strangely, Jamel Baraket remains calm in the face of the new postponement. "I was expecting it. No verdict from the specialized chambers will be issued until the next general and presidential elections at the end of this year," he said.

Jamel Baraket is the true guardian of the memory of this very long, heavy and complex case for murder, torture, kidnapping, rape and sexual assault, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance and falsification of official documents. The United Nations Committee against Torture itself had already taken a decision in favour of the Fayçal Baraket case in... 1996.

Jamel Baraket, le frère de Fayçal Baraket
Jamel Baraket, Fayçal Baraket's brother, poses in front of the empty chairs of the Court (© Olfa Belhassine)

The facts date back to 1991. Fayçal Baraket was arrested on 8 October by members of the Nabeul National Guard Research Brigade as part of a widespread persecution campaign targeting opponents of the regime, including militants of the Islamist Ennahdha party, which was not recognised by the government. He was 25 years old and was studying mathematics at the Faculty of Science in Tunis. Eight days earlier, on October 1, the Brigade couldn’t find him and instead arrested his brother Jamel, his two-year-old apolitical younger brother, in order to force the eldest to surrender. Arrested in turn, the Islamist militant was taken to the Brigade post. According to statements by Jamel Baraket, present on the scene, Fayçal Baraket was tortured in the office of Abdelfettah Ladib, head of the Brigade and main accused of the Islamist student's torture.

"I was tortured by the same team as my brother. But with him, they went to excess. From an administrative office, Abdelfettah Ladib's workplace has become a torture centre," says Jamel Baraket.

Death, after six hours of torture

Fayçal Baraket was completely undressed and tied with his feet and hands. He was hanged in the so-called "roasted chicken" position, between two chairs. Fiercely beaten all over his body, sodomized with a metal cable, he was then thrown into the corridor. According to fellow prisoners and eyewitnesses, the young man then seemed to be in agony.

"My brother spent nearly six hours at the Nabeul National Guard Research Brigade from 1pm to 6pm, where he suffered the worst abuses. When he was brought to the emergency room, shortly after 6pm, there was nothing more to do. He had already passed away," says Jamel Baraket.

On 17 October, the authorities informed the victim's father that his son's body had been found on the side of the road in Menzel Bouzalfa, near Nabeul, after being hit by an anonymous driver. The first report of the two forensic doctors was falsified. The police asked the father to recognize the body without allowing him to see it in full. He then noticed that the face was largely swollen, even disfigured. The burial took place under high police surveillance three days later at the small cemetery in Menzel Bouzelfa.

Jamel Baraket, who was released in April 1992 without trial and after being tortured, took over his brother's case and made it his own cause.

A "car accident"

Fayçal Baraket's case took on an international dimension. Amnesty International and WOAT took on the case. In 1992, the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) began to monitor the case closely. It became a carefully documented story that embarrassed the regime. The latter retaliated through an armada of legal advisors and the establishment of an intergovernmental commission defending the thesis of "a car accident committed by a stranger". In a decision of 10 November 1999, the CAT considered that Tunisia, which had ratified the Convention against Torture, has violated its obligation to conduct an impartial investigation into the case of Fayçal Baraket.

After the January 2011 Revolution, the investigation made progress "despite attempts to block it by Abdelfettah Ladib, promoted to chief of police for the Nabeul region," says Jamel Baraket. In March 2013, the deceased's remains were exhumed in the presence of his family, judges, Tunisian forensic doctors, British forensic doctor Derrik Pounder and Amnesty International delegates. This new examination revealed additional forensic evidence of torture.

As the justice system has left the case dragging on and no warrant was brought against the four officers responsible for the abuses (although  they were issued in 2013 by the Nabeul court) has so far been enforced, all the Baraket family's hopes focused on transitional justice. On 16 November 2016, Jamel Baraket and his mother testified at the first public hearings of the IVD. "We want the alleged perpetrators to come to the court and tell the whole truth. The torturers must come to report their crimes and not pass the buck as they have been trying to do since the beginning. How can we forgive and start a reconciliation process in the face of such a flow of denial?", wondered Fayçal Baraket, in an already deserted courtroom.