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The Tunisian Revolution’s Wounded Women: Scars Ignored by the Judiciary and the State

Fatima Badri
Tunisian Journalist
May 14, 2020
"You will always have the honor of freedom because you stood bravely in the face of the former regime, and protested without any fear against oppression and tyranny."

“My life turned upside down on January 16, 2011, when four bullets penetrated my left leg, my right hand, my chest, and my backside. I returned to life with great physical and spiritual distortions, after years of bitter struggle with surgeries, but what hurt me the most was the betrayal of the military judiciary, whose judgment was unfair in my case.”

With these words, Nora al-Marnisi, one of the Tunisian revolution’s wounded women, spoke to Daraj about the health and psychological consequences of the shots that targeted her two days after former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled.

Al-Marnisi, is one of many of the Tunisian revolution’s wounded women who stood in the front lines during the revolution against the regime, some of whom faced the bullets of the security forces and even the army, while others were arrested, tortured and dragged through the streets. Although nine years have passed since the revolution, they found that the effects of bullets and detentions on their bodies were deemed of no value by the new political class that would not have come to power without their sacrifices, injuries and without the victims. They also discovered that their lawsuits would face judicial manipulation sometimes, in addition to marginalization and denial at other times.

The fact that the Prime Minister’s office has abstained from publishing “the official list of the wounded men and women and martyrs of the Revolution” in the official paper adds to their troubles, because doing so would give this list a legal nature, and guarantee their rights. While the Higher Committee for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which reports to the Tunisian presidency, has published the list months ago, the Prime Minister insists, like other previous governments, on suspending this file, and slackens the efforts done to conclude it and alleviate the burdens of those concerned since 2011 because of this negative handling of their cases.

The Tunisian Higher Committee for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which reports to the Tunisian presidency, issued on the 8th of October 2019 a list, which it says is final, of the victims and the wounded of the revolution, including 129 killed and 634 injured Tunisian citizens.

Despite the importance of this step, it will not be effective for the families of the victims and wounded of the revolution, with the government remaining silent, leaving those documents on the shelves, without publishing them in the official paper, despite the communications of the Higher Committee for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Thus, the families of the revolution’s victims resumed their protest marches and sit-ins before the parliament, the government presidency and the human rights bodies, to pressure the government’s presidency to release the final list, and to give them the chance to close their cases that have been suspended for years.

10 Surgical Operations

When she received medical help two hours after being shot, doctors told Nora that she might lose her leg due to the risky place of the bullet’s injury, which caused her to go into a fit of panic in which she insisted they would not do so. After a stressful transfer between hospitals, doctors reassured her that her leg would not be amputated, but she had to undergo more than 10 consecutive surgeries.

For several years, Nora faced various kinds of fatigue and pain to overcome the effects of the bullets distributed in different places of her body, but in vain. She insisted on pursuing the criminal who was about to kill her, but to no avail.

The fact that the Prime Minister’s office has abstained from publishing “the official list of the wounded men and women and martyrs of the Revolution” in the official paper adds to their troubles..

“After several surgeries, my leg was not amputated,” she said, ”but it healed with a severe distortion that complicated my life, and after a long treatment doctors could not get my hand back the way it was, and one of them told me I would live with a lasting pain in my chest. On the other hand, my tormentor, who had confessed his crime, and who I hoped would be brought to justice, was sentenced to a fine of 200 dinars (less than $100) and two months of suspended prison sentence.”

The verdict came as a shock to the exhausted Nora, and she knew then that continuing to pursue the culprit was futile, especially after her lawyer told her that the true perpetrator was exchanged with another. She became convinced that influential bodies were manipulating the file of the revolution’s wounded and victims, as they wish, which means that, in her opinion, that people who lack power and authority, like herself, would be unable to confront their tormentors and to punish them by the power of law.

The file of the martyrs and the wounded of the revolution has been in place for years, as successive governments deliberately turned a blind eye to it and delayed its settlement. The file was assigned today to the specialized judicial circles in transitional justice, with the goal of determining responsibility and holding the perpetrators accountable, but the sentences did not live up to the aspirations of the families of the victims.

In October 2011, Decree No. 97, on compensation of the victims of the Revolution to Freedom and Dignity was issued. In chapter 6, which states that “the martyrs and wounded of the Revolution meant by this decree are people who risked or lost their lives to achieve the success of the revolution, and were martyred or physically injured between 17th of December 2010 and 28th of February 2011.”

The previously mentioned decree regulates the benefits conferred upon the revolution’s victims. These benefits include the following: receiving a monthly ration determined by an order provided for the benefit of the spouse, unless he remarries, and granting the victim’s children, in case of the death of the spouse or in case they are deprived to live with him, the right of having the ration until the age of 18 or the end of their education or caring for the parents of the martyr if the one who was killed is unmarried. Additionally, they have the right of free treatment in public health structures and in the military hospital and free transportation in public transportations for both the spouse and children until the age of 18 or the end of their education.

The decree also created a Committee for the Martyrs and Wounded of the Revolution related to the Higher Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms to undertake the preparation of the final list of victims and wounded of the revolution.

Upon this decree, the wounded of the revolution and the victims’ families have gained some benefits but they weren’t beneficial due to the delay of issuing the final list by the Higher Commission for Human Rights and the inaction of the governments in dealing with this file.

Wounds That Never Heal

Awatef Zamali was arrested on January 12, 2011, upon going out with the protesters calling for the departure of Ben Ali, as she was dragged by force to the police station in her city (Mid-west of Talat Al-Kasserine,), where she was beaten and assaulted. Due to the beating, she suffered from a serious fracture in her hand, in addition to other injuries. She left the place of detention on the evening of the 14th of the same month when the protesters attacked the security center and released the detainees.

This incident had severe health and psychological impacts on Awatef; she was sick of the memories of grabbing, taunting, and detention and she is a woman who never expected to experience this amount of violence, fear and intimidation, aside from the pain of her hand that she continues to feel until now because of the seriousness of the fracture she suffered and the delay in getting help by a specialist. What really hurts is that there was no impunity for those who tortured her. On top of that, her name was written off from the final list of the victims and wounded of the Tunisian revolution.

She describes what happened, saying: “what grieves me deeply today is seeing she who grabbed me by force, caused the fracture in my hand, humiliated and taunted me went unpunished, but rather got promoted in her career as if she committed no crime while I and the girls of my city got sanctioned by removing us from the list of the martyrs and wounded of the revolution, despite possessing proof that we were beaten up by various methods when we went out to protest against the Ben Ali regime.”

Awatef is not the only one whose name was removed from the list but rather, many were surprised by the same occurrence. That is why they continue their protest movements calling for the publication of the list in the official paper to be able to resort to the administrative judiciary, hoping that it would take their side. In addition, there are voices calling for transparent investigations about the real number of wounded men and women who were injured in the events of the revolution especially in the city of Wattala (in Al- Kasserine province).

When she received medical help two hours after being shot, doctors told Nora that she might lose her leg due to the risky place of the bullet’s injury.

Ali Al-Makki, the head of the “We will not forget you” association concerned with the issue of the victims and wounded of the revolution, informed “Darj” that “the state has dealt with the wounded women of the revolution as it has dealt with most of the victims of the revolution. It tried to reduce the matter to some financial compensation and if it was not for the pressure that we had practiced for years, some patients would not have received treatment. Tunisia wants to get away with its historical crime against the martyrs and wounded of the revolution. It also wants to hide the file and is still trying to do so, and maybe its refusal to activate the decree number 97 of 2011, which stipulates in its first chapters the publication of the official list of the martyrs of the revolution and its casualties by the official paper is the best proof for that.

Al-Makki sees that, despite the sensitivity of the issue for the wounded women of the revolution especially those who were subjected to severe physical violation like Awatef Al- Zamali, they were fearless and stood and talked in public about the details of the physical and psychological torture they had suffered, got to identify their torturers and confronted them before the military courts, but the state authorities sought to hide these facts including “Truth and Dignity Commission,” which deliberately ignored these cases.

“You will always have the honor of freedom because you stood bravely in the face of the former regime and protested without any fear against oppression and tyranny”, Makki to the oppressed heroines of the revolution.

الأكثر قراءة

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