Skip to main content

Tunisia court begins first human rights trial against former leader Ben Ali

Fourteen former officials, including former president, go on trial in first court case by Truth and Dignity Commission
Zine el Abidine Ben Ali will be tried in absentia (AFP)

A Tunisian commission probing human rights violations stretching back 61 years brought its first case to court on Tuesday, with former President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and 13 other ex-officials on trial.

The Truth and Dignity Commission was set up in 2014 following the toppling of Ben Ali in 2011 that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

It is mandated to investigate human rights violations between Habib Bourguiba's accession to the presidency in 1957 and the date of its creation. It aims to hold perpetrators to account and rehabilitate their victims.

Tuesday's first court case concerns the forced disappearance of Kamel Matmati, a member of the Islamist movement Ennahda, who was arrested in 1991 during Ben Ali's rule and tortured to death.

The courtroom in the southern coastal town of Gabes was packed with family members and activists who called for justice, an end to impunity and closure.

"We want those who killed him, tortured him, to be tried" and convicted, Matmati's wife Latifa told AFP.

"We have spent terrible years. The hardest of all is" that his body has not been returned to the family, she said.

"But today we are happy because the truth will be finally unveiled," she added.

On trial are Ben Ali, who lives in exile in Saudi Arabia, his interior minister Abdallah Kallel and 12 other former officials, accused of voluntary homicide. All are being tried in absentia.

"It is an exceptional day," defence lawyer Habib Kheder said.

"It is rare for results to emerge from a case of forced disappearance... we know part of the truth but the rest must come to light," he added.

Since the commission began work, it has received more than 62,000 allegations of human rights violations and interviewed close to 50,000 people.

It has referred at least 32 cases of "serious violations" of human rights to Tunisian courts.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.