Trials open in Tunisia over deaths of Arab Spring protesters

Families of victims mourn their relatives in the Tunisian city of Kasserine. AFP
Updated 14 July 2018
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Trials open in Tunisia over deaths of Arab Spring protesters

  • None of the accused were present in court in Sidi Bouzid, much to the disappointment of victims’ relatives
  • The body was set up in 2014 to bring justice for those wronged by Ben Ali’s regime

SIDI BOUZID: Two trials opened in Tunisia on Friday over the killings of protesters during the 2011 revolution, part of a process aimed at redressing rights abuses under the toppled regime.
Judges will rule on the guilt of deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, his former Interior Minister Rafik BelHajj Kacem and high-ranking security officials.
The trials are the first cases under the mandate of Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission to center on protesters killed during the revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
The body was set up in 2014 to bring justice for those wronged by Ben Ali’s regime.
They are being held in the central Tunisian cities of Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid — the cradle of the demonstration movement sparked by the December 2010 self-immolation of a fruit seller in protest against police harassment.
None of the accused were present in court in Sidi Bouzid, much to the disappointment of victims’ relatives, an AFP journalist said.
Tension escalated and the hearing in Sidi Bouzid started two hours late — “a very bad sign,” one relative said.
“Loyal to the martyrs!,” indignant audience members shouted at the entrance to the judges’ room.
The accused face charges of “intentional homicide with premeditation” and “attempted homicide with premeditation.”
The case in Sidi Bouzid centers on the death of a computer engineer and a student killed by live rounds in protests on Dec. 24, 2010 in Menzel Bouzayane, another central Tunisian city.
Computer engineer Chawki Hidri was 43 years old when he died, eight days after being shot in the spine and shoulder. Student Mohammed Amari was 25 years old and died after being shot twice in the chest.
The trial in Kasserine centers on the deaths of 20 other protesters, whose relatives waved photos of them in the court room.

Official figures show 338 Tunisians were killed and 2,174 wounded in the popular uprising that forced Ben Ali from power and ushered in the Arab Spring.
There have been civil and military trials for those killed during the 2010-11 protests, but relatives and lawyers have described the sentences as too lenient.
They hope the trials under the Truth and Dignity Commission will bring greater closure.
“I hope that the transitional justice will do us justice” and “reveal the killers of our children,” said Mbarka, whose son Mohammed was killed during the protests.
Other trials under the commission have so far centered on finding justice for opponents who died after being tortured during Ben Ali’s dictatorship.


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.