At Arab Spring commission, Tunisians speak of incomplete revolution


On the sixth anniversary of Tunisia’s revolution that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Moslem Kasdallah — a heavyset young man with braces — gave his public testimony. As he described being shot by police officers while patrolling his neighborhood during the long nights of the revolution in January 2011, sweat dripped down his face. His leg — which was riddled with bullets, required 32 operations and was almost amputated — was hidden under the table.

“I am ready to sacrifice all my body — be it that I give my other leg and walk on no legs at all,” he said passionately.

Kasdallah was the first speaker at the third Truth and Dignity Commission event, which took place on Jan. 14 in a northern suburb of Tunis. The commission, which was set up in 2013 following the drafting of Tunisia’s new constitution, was tasked with documenting human rights abuses in the country’s post-colonial history. It has collected over 62,000 testimonies from across the country.

The Truth and Dignity Commission is investigating abuse claims stretching back to the 1950s, and earlier hearings were marked by gruesome testimonies detailing abuse by the state apparatuses of Ben Ali and President Habib Bourguiba. But the wounds were remarkably fresh at this weekend’s event, which focused on victims of the revolution. Khaled ben Nejma, who testified with his mother, was shot in the back and chest at a peaceful protest in Bizerte on Jan. 13, 2011. Now wheelchair bound, he had not left his house for three months prior to the hearing.

Tunisia is often labeled a success story of the Arab Spring, as it largely avoided the violent political turmoil that has engulfed its near neighbors. And the country has seen many successes: a relatively peaceful transition of power, elections, a new constitution and sustained engagement from civil society resulting in a Nobel Peace Prize. But on the day of the hearings, protesters clashed with police around the country.

Read more