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Not good timing for financial compensation to political prisoners in Tunisia

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Last week, Tunisia’s minister of finance, Houcien Dimassi, abruptly resigned from his post refusing to approve a bill that would cost the national budget more than a billion dollars just to curry favour with the voters

Meriem Dhaouadi
5 August 2012

“How much is a kilo of political activism worth nowadays?” asked one of the protest banners of those gathering on Tuesday in front of the Constituent Assembly headquarters to contest a governmental bill introduced to offer financial compensation to political prisoners under Ben Ali ‘s rule.

The process of transitional justice has hit a rocky stretch in Tunisia since the Government rushed to reward ex-prisoners for their ‘political activism’ while those who were directly responsible for their torture, abuse and imprisonment seem to be still immune to any sort of punishment or due legal process. When it comes to putting these people on trial, uncovering the truth is still not a priority on the Government‘s agenda.

The Tunisian people have split into two camps over this: the first camp believes that political activism should be motivated by patriotism, one‘s dedication to human rights and firm belief in changing the status quo so that people live in dignity, not through greed and corruption. They say: “Those who are demanding compensation are mercenaries”. On the other hand, the government spokesman, Samir Dilou, has made it plain in a recent press conference, that over a billion dollars in compensation to political prisoners to heal the sufferings they underwent during Ben Ali ‘s era, “will neither jeopardize the country’s balanced budget, nor will it be implemented at the expense of Tunisia’s development projects.”

This may not be the best timing for the Ennahda-dominated government compensation initiative, however, given an economic recession that has worsened the living conditions of all Tunisians, especially the poor, the underprivileged and its middle class. But on both sides the argument has become more shrill. Last week, Tunisia’s minister of finance, Houcien Dimassi, abruptly resigned from his post refusing to approve a bill that would cost the national budget more than a billion dollars just to curry favour with the voters, while the troika government accused those who oppose the passage of the bill of challenging the legitimacy of the government and pushing for political instability in order to overthrow the government.

In Tunisia today the families of the martyrs of the revolution are still demanding their rights, that those responsible for the deaths of their relatives be brought to trial. Those injured in the revolution are still waiting for any helping hand to fund their hospitalization. Some of the interior regions of Tunisia where the revolution began are still denied electricity or/and running water. The youth are still unemployed and the underemployed are still putting up with low wages and low benefits. When will the myriads of problems that are evolving and developing every day in Tunisia be put at the top of the Government’s agenda?

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