A Frenchman and a Tunisian woman were convicted this week on appeal in Tunis for “public indecency” after an altercation with police, who arrested the couple while they were hugging in a car. The police claim the couple were naked and kissing.
The couple, who maintain that they were not kissing, were given a lighter sentence than the original term handed out at their October 4 trial, after widespread outrage on social media and in the press.
The man was handed four months in prison for “public indecency” and “refusing to obey the police”, and the woman was given a two-month sentence on the first charge only.
“It’s an independent decision,” a spokesperson for the public prosecutor’s office, Sofiène Sliti, told AFP.
“What has been reported nationally and internationally is wrong — they weren’t arrested for a kiss; the couple was naked,” he added.
At the hearing this week, the woman collapsed in tears when the court president read a police description saying a sexual act was in process when the couple were stopped on October 1 in a suburb of Tunis.
The woman said that her friend had simply taken her into his arms when the plainclothes police stopped them and made them get out of the car. The Frenchman confirmed to the judge that he had tried to film the police to make a complaint about their behaviour.
A dozen defence lawyers have been arguing for an acquittal for the couple. The majority of the lawyers were working for free, triggering an uproar in Tunisia about morality campaigns and police behaviour.
The defence pointed to numerous flaws in the case — including hearings in Arabic that the Frenchman, who is of Algerian origin, did not understand. “It is normal that he reacts badly when his fundamental rights were being violated,” said lawyer Ghazi Mrabet, whose client was accused of intimidating police.
He pointed to what he said was “bad faith” on the part of the police, who he said were looking for revenge after being implicated over their handling of the case.
“This case highlights key problems with the judicial system and the police. Abuse of powers … lack of respect for citizens and their rights, attacks on individual liberty,” said Nadia Chaabane, who is a member of a group set up to support the couple.
“The problem is that we have judges now who accept all these breaches and procedural problems,” she said before the judgment. — AFP