Tunisian civil society groups expressed outrage on Wednesday after a young woman was accused of indecency by two policemen jailed for raping her, amid criticism of the Islamist-led government for rolling back women’s rights.
The woman and her fiance were summoned by a magistrate on Wednesday to face the two policemen, both found guilty of rape and jailed, who accuse her of “indecency,” a group of Tunisian NGOs said in a statement.
The crime is punishable by six months in prison.
The hearing was eventually postponed until October 2, according to the NGOs, with social media networks calling for a demonstration outside the court in Tunis on that day.
The interior ministry said the woman and her boyfriend were apprehended by three policemen on September 3, when they were found in an “immoral position.”
Two policemen then raped her, while the third held the handcuffed fiance.
The NGOs, which include the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women and the Tunisian League of Human Rights, slammed what they described as a procedure that “transforms the victim into the accused.”
It “is designed to frighten, and to force her and her fiance to waive their rights,” they added.
They also questioned “the seriousness of the government’s commitment to applying the national plan to combat violence against women.”
“Rape as a means of repression is still practised in Tunisia,” a coalition of leftwing opposition parties said separately, calling for a law to protect “Tunisian men and women against all forms of physical, moral and sexual violence.”
MP Karima Souid, who belongs to Ettakatol, a centre-left group that partners the Islamist party Ennahda in Tunisia‘s ruling coalition, condemned her party’s support for the government in protest at the proceedings against the rape victim.
“I completely dissociate myself from this government. The rape case and the summoning of the victim this morning is the last straw,” she wrote on Facebook.
Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche told AFP that the ministry “had nothing to do with” the proceedings against the young women, emphasising that the decision to summon her was taken by the magistrate.
“In this case, we acted as was required of us. What had to be done was done, and the three police agents were arrested straight away,” he said, insisting that cases of police assaulting women were “isolated.”
The justice ministry was not immediately reachable for comment.
Since the Islamists’ rise to power after the revolution last year, Tunisian feminist groups have accused the police of regularly harassing women, by challenging them over their clothing, or when they go out at night unaccompanied by family members.
Ennahda also provoked a storm of protest for proposing an article in the new constitution that referred to the “complementarity” of men to women rather than their equality.
Many saw the proposed article, which was abandoned on Monday, as a ploy by the Islamists to reverse the principle of gender equality that made Tunisia a beacon of modernity in the Arab world when it was introduced six decades ago.