Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

Rights group: Police rape woman in Tunisia, then charge her with indecency

Story highlights

  • Rights group says case "shocked public opinion"
  • Police say they found couple in "an immoral position"
  • The couple denies the charges
  • Tunisians will protest outside the courthouse where the woman will appear

Outraged Tunisians took to the streets by the hundreds Tuesday, angrily protesting the treatment of a woman who was allegedly raped by police officers -- and then charged with public indecency when she filed a complaint.

"At best, charging the victim of a rape by police officers instead of protecting her from intimidation and stigma highlights the deep flaws on Tunisian law and criminal justice system," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy Middle East and North Africa program director at Amnesty International.

"At worst, it is an insidious attempt to discredit a rape victim and protect those she accused of raping her."

The case began September 3 when three police officers approached the woman and her fiance while they were in their car in the capital Tunis, the woman's lawyer told Amnesty.

More: Women, free speech and the Tunisian constitution

Tunisian scandal shines light on rights

    Just Watched

    Tunisian scandal shines light on rights

Tunisian scandal shines light on rights 03:46
PLAY VIDEO
Accuser talks about her ordeal

    Just Watched

    Accuser talks about her ordeal

Accuser talks about her ordeal 02:36
PLAY VIDEO
Tunisia's President on protests

    Just Watched

    Tunisia's President on protests

Tunisia's President on protests 11:17
PLAY VIDEO

Two of the officers then raped the woman inside the car, while the third took her fiance to a nearby ATM to extort money from him, the woman claimed.

It was only after she filed a complaint against the officers -- and they were charged with rape and extortion -- that the officers said they found the couple in an "immoral position" in the car.

"This case first shocked public opinion since the innocent woman was raped by policemen," said Salah Eddine El Jorshi of the Tunisian League of Human Rights. "But when the verdict was announced, we were shocked even more that they tried to take this to another level by targeting the victim herself."

See more: Tunisia's President: 'The extremists are a minority of a minority'

Authorities have not specified what they meant by "immoral position," but the claim was later repeated by the country's interior ministry, Amnesty said.

The couple was charged with "intentional indecent behavior," which could yield up to six months in prison.

Both have denied the charges. Tuesday's session is the second of what is expected to be several court hearings on the matter.

The decision to charge the woman incensed human rights groups like the Tunisian League of Human Rights and the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, who called for protests outside the Tunis courthouse.

Read more: Arab Spring nations don't yet grasp freedom of dissent

"We fear that the treatment afforded to the young woman will deter other victims of sexual abuse from coming forward and as they may fear being treated as the accused rather than the victim," Amnesty's Sahraoui said.

Because of the case, rights groups are taking a closer look at the Tunisian government and judiciary.

"This caused a major upheaval in Tunisian public opinion," Jorshi said. "Some felt that maybe the woman was part of the crime, but others strongly felt that she was solely targeted because she was a woman."

Tunisia is the birthplace of the Arab Spring, a series of revolutions that swept across northern African and the Middle East.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire in protest, sparking the movement that still ripples through the region.

Tunisia's revolution ousted President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and brought about a new government and political system, including a new draft constitution.

But challenges remain.

Last month, the government rejected a U.N. Human Rights Council's recommendation to abolish discrimination against women in areas such as inheritance and child custody.

In addition, Tunisian authorities have charged journalists and human rights activists in recent months with "public immorality" and "public disorder" to restrict freedom of expression, rights group say.

Tunisia's president on women's rights

Photos: Turmoil in Tunisia

      CNN Recommends

    • pkg clancy north korea nuclear dreams_00002004.jpg

      As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
    • Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
    • pkg rivers uk football match fixing_00005026.jpg

      Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
    • No Eiffel Towers, Statues of Liberties, Mt. Rushmores, Taj Mahals, Aussie koalas or Chairman Maos.

      It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.