In a period of less than three months, Zakaria Bouguira, a Tunisian blogger and medical student, has been assaulted twice by police.
The first time was on 13 November last year as he was videotaping police officers physically and verbally abusing Moroccan supporters of the football team Al-Widad Al-Baydhawi at Tunis Carthage airport. He told Index: “I saw police officers beating handcuffed people. There was yelling, and blood. It was horrifying. I took my phone to film the assaults, in order to publish it later on Facebook. Police caught me, and surrounded me. They pushed me to the floor and started kicking and beating me. Then they took me to a police station room, outside the airport, with the Moroccan supporters, where I spent about 30 minutes there. During that period, I was verbally and physically abused. Then they transferred me to another room, where I was beaten again.”
Bouguira said the assaults lasted from two to three hours. He also recalled how state media came to report on what happened that night at the airport and how its journalist sought to manipulate public opinion. “They fabricated their own story (…) A journalist of Al-Wataniya TV 1 [state owned television] asked the security forces to change the clothes, tainted with blood, of the Moroccan supporters. They changed their clothes, took them to another room, and the supporters were filmed with their faces against the wall. They embellished the story. They described the Moroccans as vandals, and represented the police officers as honourable men.”
He went on: “I remember there was a Libyan person who was arrested for possessing bullets, and he was being investigated. The same journalist videotaped the bullets, and when I came back home, and watched the TV report, they added the snapshots of the bullets to the report on the Moroccan supporters. They were seeking to manipulate public opinion.”
On 20 January Bouguira says he saw Isam Dardouri, one of his attackers, and the general secretary of the Syndicate of the Internal Security Forces, in Habib Bourguiba Aveue in downtown Tunis. He went to talk him. “It was stronger than me. It was just for me, to heal myself. I needed to say what’s in my heart. I told him that he had assaulted me and that he was an unjust man,” he said.
The second time, Bouguira was assaulted was on 1 February, when he was taking part in a protest in support of Interior Ministry histleblower Samir Feriani. Again, the blogger came face to face with Dardouri and sought to confront him. “He was looking at me, and laughing. He was provoking me. I took my phone and filmed him while saying ‘this is Isam Dardouri, who assaulted me along with the Moroccans at the airport'; he is not ashamed of himself.”
Some hours later, Bouguira was arrested and abused by police. He adds:
I was surrounded by police officers in plain clothes; they pushed me, beat me, insulted me, and handcuffed me, as if I were a criminal. In the police station, they would beat me again for about five minutes. I was detained for six hours for nothing.”
The blogger has lodged a complaint against his attackers. Meanwhile, Dardouri is planning to lodge a complaint against him.
“Now he wants to lodge a complaint against me. He is accusing me of defaming and harassing him,” says Zakaria. “He has the whole union by his side. Police in Tunisia has never been in the service of the citizen. Police are in the service of the police, even before the state. I don’t think they would abandon each other. But I’m not going to abandon my rights. I’m not going to surrender. If they want to arrest, kidnap, or kill me…let them do it. If Zac dies, there will be another 20 Zacs. These practices have to stop, and we should stand in their way.”