Human Rights Watch has called on Tunisian authorities to ensure a “prompt and thorough” investigation into the recent death of a man under police custody in the capital Tunis.
Police arrested Walid Denguir, 34-years-old, in the neighborhood of Bab Jedid shortly after 4pm on Friday. About an hour later, his mother, Faouzia Rezgui, received a phone call from a police officer telling her he was dead.
When Rezgui saw her son’s body later that day, he appeared to have head injuries and extensive bruising, she told Human Rights Watch.
“Walid Denguir’s family has the right to know how he ended up dead with bruises on his back and possibly a broken skull shortly after police arrested him,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Rezgui told Human Rights Watch that about 15 minutes after her son left the house on November 1, several young men from the neighborhood came to tell her that they had seen several policemen emerge from a police car and confront Denguir as he was on his motorcycle.
They said that Denguir had fled, and that the police pursued him, caught up with him in front of the Magazin General supermarket in Bab Jedid, and forced him into the police car.
“Forty-five minutes later, a man phoned me who identified himself as a police officer and said, ‘Your son is dead,’” Rezgui said.
Rezgui said it looked like her son had been beaten: “His mouth and his nose were bleeding, I touched his forehead and it felt as though his skull was broken because there was a crevice between his forehead and the top of his skull”.
The hospital turned over the body to the family the following day. HRW viewed photos that the family said they took during the pre-burial cleansing of Denguir’s body. The upper skull appeared deformed. His mouth, left ear, and nose showed blood stains, and he had long, straight marks on his back.
Denguir’s mother told Human Rights Watch that the family has not yet received an autopsy report.
On October 3, the interior ministry published a news release on its Facebook page stating that it is waiting for the results of the autopsy to determine Denguir’s cause of death. The ministry added that a judicial investigation had been opened in the case.
It also said that the police had been searching for Denguir in connection with “drug offenses” and “membership in criminal networks.”
During a May 2011 visit to Tunisia, the UN special rapporteur on torture noted that there was ongoing torture and other ill-treatment in detention centers.
The special rapporteur highlighted the need for the government to conduct in-depth investigations of reports of torture without further delay, to prosecute those responsible, and to offer the victims effective remedies and reparations.
Since the election of the National Constituent Assembly on October 23, 2011, human rights organisations have reported at least one other suspicious death in police custody.
Police arrested Abderraouf Khammasi in Tunis on August 28, 2012, and took him to the Sidi Hassine police station. Later that day, he was admitted to a hospital, where he died of head injuries on September 8, 2012.
The next day the public prosecutor’s office brought homicide charges against four police officers based at Sidi Hassine.
However., that trial has not yet begun