/ languages

Choisir langue


French court condemns Tunisian for torture

Article published on the 2008-12-16 Latest update 2008-12-16 09:40 TU

Zoulaikha Gharbi (R) with her lawyer, Eric Plouvier, at the Strassbourg courthouse(Photo: AFP)

Zoulaikha Gharbi (R) with her lawyer, Eric Plouvier, at the Strassbourg courthouse
(Photo: AFP)

A French judge sentenced a former police chief in Tunisia to eight years in prison Monday for torturing the wife of an opposition member in the 1990s. Khaled Ben Said was tried under French law based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, part of the UN convention against torture, which says a court can try foreigners if their country is unwilling or unable to prosecute them.

Ben Said, who served as the Tunisian vice-consul in the French city of Strasbourg from 2000 to 2001, was accused by Zoulaikha Gharbi of leading a group of police officers who interrogated her and tortured her in a police station in the Tunisian town of Jendouba in 1996.

“A French court should not have ruled on this case,” Olivier Salichon, Ben Said’s lawyer, told RFI. “On the principle of legal procedure I’m disappointed. I’m also disappointed because this accusation is completely devoid of substance.”

Salichon argued that Gharbi did not have her story straight, and that there was no corroborating evidence of her torture.

“In all the testimony there were revisions, not only of details, but on the important points, notably on the participation - or non-participation - of Mr Ben Said in the violent acts that she says she’s a victim of,” he said.

Gharbi, who lives in France and started the lawsuit in 2001, claims she was partially undressed, hung from a metal bar and subjected to 24 hours of torture to get information about her husband, Mouldi Gharbi, who opposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Patrick Baudoin, lawyer for the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), which helped represnt Gharbi, said the decision is a step forward in the fight against torture.

“It’s a strong signal to the Tunisian authorities to put an end, once and for all, what has been asked for by all organisations – governmental and NGO – to put a final end to this odious practice of torture,” he told RFI.

Even before the decision, Tunisian officials rejected the charges against Ben Said, and questioned France’s jurisdiction over the case.

Ben Said lives in Tunisia, and his lawyer says he does not know if his client will turn himself over to the French authorities or if he will appeal the decision.

This is the second case of a foreigner convicted in France - under the principle of universal jurisdiction - of acts committed abroad under the principle of universal jurisdiction. A Mauritanian military officer, Ely Ould Dha, was convicted of torture in 2005. The principle has gained a foothold in international law since the UK detained the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.