Tunisia has many terrorists but no terrorism

Samir Ben Amor is a Tunisian lawyer who has practised throughout the Ben Ali regime. We had made contact with Monsieur Ben Amor through a colleague of mine who had worked with him in the past and we arranged a meeting one afternoon for that evening. I knew nothing of the man yet the reaction of a Tunisian colleague was telling; our host had fled persecution in Tunisia some 20 years earlier and told us it had long been his ambition to meet Ben Amor in person and though tired after another hectic day was keen to interpret during our meeting.

Ben Amor’s work currently includes representing those held in Guantanamo Bay and some detainees who have since returned from the American internment camp. He spoke with confidence about the likelihood of the transitional government respecting the amnesty for those of his clients yet to return home. He was less optimistic that many of his clients would ever see compensation from Tunisian or American administrations.

As Secretary General of the AISPP he is at the forefront of discussions which will identify critical reforms and he assured us that notions of truth and reconciliation were being explored. He was indignant as to the future of the Judiciary: the Tunisian people will not tolerate anything less than a wholly independent Judicial system. We were, he told us, only to look at how even politicians whose current role in government was one of stewardship had quickly fallen when the people realised that they had not left along with Ben Ali.

The question was obvious but none the less required addressing: Have you suffered at the hands of the state because of your work? The better question, Ben Amor responded, dead-pan, without blinking, is ‘Have you ever practised your profession for one day in a normal way?’ He told us of harassment and contrived accusations all designed to disrupt his personal and professional life. And though his face bore the lines of worry and shades betraying days without sleep, what I did not see was any trace of fear in his eyes.

When asked to comment on the use of Tunisia’s controversial 2003 anti-terrorism legislation to repress political dissidents and young Muslims for simply practising their religion he again showed a dry humour noting that “Tunisia has many “terrorists” but no terrorism”. There have been calls from the Tunisian lawyers we have met for the repeal of this law.

Russell Fraser

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