Home

Tunisia: losing the best years

Ahmed_Medien.jpg

Khaled Bouhrizi, is a 29-year old Tunisian rapper who was incarcerated for six years in prison. He was convicted for trafficking hemp, illegal by Tunisian law. Ahmed Medien went to talk to him.

Ahmed Medien
2 June 2012

I spoke with Khaled Bouhrizi – Mr Kaz – last week about the past 6 years he spent in jail cut off from the world. Bouhrizi didn’t murder or steal. He had a business, unlawful perhaps. He sold hemp – commonly known as ‘zatla’ in Tunisia – to clients he did or he didn’t know. Bouhrizi was arrested in 2006 and convicted from 6 years of prison for hemp dealing until he was released earlier in January 2012.  As he explained, he thinks of this dealing as, “more honorable than vandalizing or stealing. I sold zatla because I needed money to improve my life conditions,” said Bouhrizi.

Bouhrizi comes from a poor neighborhood in Tunis, Kabaria. His parents didn’t have enough means to help him make ends meet. So he preferred to do it his own way. I asked him if he would do it again if had the opportunity to change the past. He said yes. This is despite the six wasted years when he often thought of suicide: “Sometimes, thoughts of death seemed to walk beside me in prison. I would try to kill time talking to cellmates, but time was frozen. It was the same situation for every day of every single year.”

The law ruling against deal of zatla – there are other laws for other different kinds of drugs and substances – was introduced in 1992 either by the chamber of deputies or president Ben Ali himself. Little information is available about the subject as it remains a taboo in both the society and its law courts. The law convicts first-time arrested users for 1 year and a 1 thousand dinars fine. The sentence and fine will go fivefold in case of a second arrest. Selling zatla, however, is punishable by 6 years for each client identified. Thus, one may end up with dozens of years in jail if caught with other clients willing to give him up. Bouhrizi was only sentenced for one deal and one client.

“Judges don’t look at us as individuals, they see us as titles with felonies who deserve to rot in jail,” said Khaled with passion.

Khaled Bouhrizi at a concert

Khaled Bouhrizi at a concert

Khaled hasn’t gone back to consuming or selling zatla since he left jail. He is clean now. Unfortunately, Khaled’s young brother, another rapper Mohamed Ali Bouhrizi, Madou MC, was arrested for consumption last march. He will be convicted for 1 year of jail away from his studies and profession and he has a 1 thousand-dinar fine. Thousands of people are convicted for zatla consumption or dealing each year as Bouhrizi witnessed in prison. Many of them are often nationals of western and sub-Saharan African countries, those close to Tunisia.

It has been 6 months now since the new elected body in Tunisia has been in power. The law has not been changed. Police forces still put a great deal of money and effort into running after consumers and sellers of zatla. Hemp will grow in the arid parts of the Tunisian hinterland where hardly anything else will grow. But there is also a history of smuggling such goods through the Algerian borders with Tunisia. The corruption of customs officials at borders also has a history, though Khaled doubts whether the state itself or the Government has had anything to do with the traffic of hashish.

Life is a continual risk for Tunisians who, often driven by hard conditions of life, choose to consume or sell zatla. The irony is that judges don’t even bother to look into the users’ psychiatric records. Many convicted for use of substances are sentenced for years of prison while all they might need is rehabilitation. Those convicted are sentenced for more years of jail if they fail to pay their fines. Fines increase as the ex-prisoners miss their payments, due to their incapacity to find jobs in a conservative Tunisian society that scarcely ever gives them a second chance.

Until now, there is no political willingness or any pressure from civil society to change the law. Youngsters like Khaled and his brother Mohamed Amine will have to go through this harsh incarceration until the government decides to amend the law and save the lives of thousands of young Tunisians who just yearn for freedom and dignity.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email

Comments

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData