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The New Arab

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi accused of torture

"against settling scores of the past," said Essebsi

Date of publication: 27 March, 2019

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A Tunisian independent commission has accused President Beji Caid Essebsi of complicity in torture along with his predecessor Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

A Tunisian independent commission has accused President Beji Caid Essebsi of complicity in torture, while his predecessor Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has been implicated in corruption.

The Truth and Dignity Commission, set up by the Tunisian state to investigate alleged crimes by those in power, said that Essebsi was involved in mass arrests and show trials against Bourguiba's opponents, following an attempted military coup in 1962.

Essebsi's brother, Salah El-Din Caid Essebsi, was appointed the state's defence lawyer in military trails that sentenced a number of people to death, while others got life imprisonment.

The commission - tasked with exposing decades of crimes committed between the last year of French rule in 1955 and the 2011 uprising that overthrew Ben Ali - has issued a report detailing the 92-year-old Essebsi's alleged responsibility for crimes committed when he was serving as a minister during Bourguiba's rule.

Tunisian authorities have Relentlessly been attempting to hinder the Truth and Dignity Commission operations since its creation in 2013.

Last year Essebsi - criticising the commission - said that he is "against settling scores of the past".

The state-sponsored body called on officials and political actors, alluding to Essebsi's years in power, to bear responsibility for crimes committed on their watch.

The Tunisian government set up the commission in the hope to break with the country's past and help build a good future for next generations to come.

The Truth and Dignity Commission revealed in December that it had unearthed 62,720 cases of abuse, of which at least 173 cases have been referred to a network of specialised courts designated to trial offenders.

Findings, based on interviews with 1,782 Tunisian resistance fighters, of crimes committed by occupying French forces -before the end of colonial occupation in 1956 - were also included in the report, which demands calls on Paris to remove a military cemetery in Gammarth and build a memorial in its place.

The commission's efforts to uncover past crimes and bring perpetrators to justice have often been hindered by the government.

Previously, Essebsi proposed a law whereby officials accused of corruption can strike deals with the authorities in exchange for immunity, allowing them to return to work.

The report also detailed the killing of peaceful protesters during the uprising that ousted Ben Ali as well as outlined alleged corruption that was rampant within the latter's family and wider network, such as the misuse of public funds and gross human rights violations.

The former president, who lives now in exile in Saudi Arabia, was previously sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison after he was charged of murdering protesters in 2011, the year that saw him abdicating power and fleeing the country.

Since 2011 uprising, Ben Ali and members of his family have been sentenced following multiple corruption cases. In 2017 they were sentenced to ten-year imprisonment for misusing a state-owned nature park.

Last week, Essebsi called for changes to Tunisia's constitution to grant more powers to the president, nearly six months before the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

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