AISPP – Celebration for Release of Political Prisoners

Today over 2,000 people crowded into the National Congress Centre, which only a few months ago hosted heads of state Mubarak and Ben Ali. Under the Ben Ali regime, public meetings were prohibited so the atmosphere was electric as old friends greeted each other for the first time since the Revolution, exchanging hopes for better times ahead.

Tunisians were here to celebrate the release of political prisoners in the amnesty that followed the ousting of the Ben Ali regime. The event also commemorated the loss of those who died in prison from ill-treatment and lack of proper medical care. Each of the families of the deceased was presented with gift and a resounding welcome from the audience.

There followed a poignant and moving song performed by singers who had all themselves been political prisoners. The song was written as an open letter from a prisoner to his father. One of the singers was a medical doctor, who was sentenced to the death penalty for his political activity before his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Amongst the speakers was Hayachi Hammami, leader of an activist left group. He called for the new government to compensate the victims of torture and to investigate crimes committed against political prisoners. Many of the speakers rallied the crowds into chants of “Free Tunisia”, “Free Morocco” and “Free Libya”. National flags of all three countries were waved aloft as rhythmic clapping and chanting swelled.

Student leaders called for the new student unions to be recognised by the new government.

The sister of a prisoner who died after 3 months in prison told us of his last message to her; that another man had died before him and that he felt envy as that man was out of pain and a martyr.

The mother of a 22-year-old man told us how her son had disappeared in 2008 and was presumed to have died in state custody. He had left Tunisia to start a new life in Italy but had only got as far as Algeria when he was returned by the Algerian authorities to Tunisia. When he was handed over to the Tunisian authorities he was treated by them as a political dissident. In 2009 his mother went to the Interior Ministry building to ask about his whereabouts and the police then started an investigation into her activities. She has gone back again and again but does not know what has happened to her son.

We were privileged to have been invited as guests to this momentus event and felt inspired by the hope and warmth of the Tunisian people. The delegation’s own Kat Craig addressed the conference. See her speech on later post.



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