TUNIS: A young woman allegedly raped by two policemen was questioned Tuesday by a magistrate in Tunis who is to decide whether she is to be charged with indecency, a court source said, in a case that has sparked outrage.
At the end of the hearing, conducted by magistrate Mohammad Ben Meftah and lasting more than two hours, the woman’s lawyers said they were “optimistic” the proceedings against her and her fiance would be dropped.
“It would be unreasonable to maintain such accusations. I am confident about the fairness of the law,” Emna Zahrouni told AFP, without giving details of the morning session.
“I told the judge he had a historic responsibility. The whole world, the media, Tunisia’s youth are awaiting his decision, which will be decisive in establishing the rule of law,” said Monia Bousselmi, another lawyer.
A court source said the magistrate should decide in the hours or days to come whether to “dismiss the case or transfer it to the competent court.”
The 27-year-old woman, who was allegedly raped Sept. 3, left the courtroom in Tunis without commenting, her faced hidden behind a scarf and dark glasses.
On her arrival, the tearful young woman implored AFP: “The whole world supports me. I ask you for your support, too.”
She and her fiance are both under investigation for “indecency,” a crime that carries a possible jail sentence of up to six months.
The accusation is based on the testimony of the alleged rapists, policemen who say they took the couple by surprise in an “immoral position” just before the rape purportedly took place.
A judicial source said the police had taken the couple by surprise as they were having sex in their car.
Two of them then took the woman to the police car, where they raped her, while a third restrained and tried to extort money from her fiance, the source added.
The president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, Ahlem Belhadj, a lawyer who is also representing the woman, said she was in a “very fragile” psychological state, but remained determined to fight.
“This is a woman, a victim with a cause,” she said. “It is a case that shames Tunisia. Within our culture, even in the legal system, there is a tendency to hold the victims responsible for their rape.”
The young couple came face to face with the police accused at a court hearing last week.
The three policemen, who were arrested shortly afterward and are awaiting trial, face heavy sentences if found guilty, with rape at least in theory risking the death penalty in Tunisia.
In practice, no one has been executed for more than 20 years.
Several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the court early Tuesday waving banners and placards and shouting slogans in support of the woman.
“Revolution raped, woman raped, young girl raped,” one of the many banners exclaimed.
“Rape or rape, do we have to choose?” read another.
The case has sparked a storm of protest in Tunisia, with NGOs, media and opposition figures already charging that the proceedings have transformed the victim into the accused and reflect the Islamist-led government’s policy toward women.
The Justice Ministry has defended itself, insisting that a rape victim should not benefit from immunity if she “has committed acts prohibited by law.”
Since the Islamists’ rise to power after last year’s revolution, feminist groups have accused police of regularly harassing women, by challenging them over their clothing or if they go out at night unaccompanied by family members.