Tunis: Hamma al-Hammami knows the danger if Tunisia returns to autocracy, as he and opposition parties have warned it could happen if President Kais Saied passes his draft constitution in a referendum on Monday .
Hammami, a left-wing political leader, was repeatedly imprisoned and tortured from 1972 to the 2011 revolution that brought democracy to Tunisia – a moment he experienced from inside a cell of the Ministry of the Interior, with crowds roaring was giving
Now, he says, the struggle for independence must resume after a decade in which Tunisians can speak their mind, criticize their leaders and vote in fair elections.
“He is a sultan, not a president,” he said of Sayeed.
“The struggle for freedom and dignity will begin again.”
Sayed says his moves to dismiss parliament, take over the government, rule by decree and rewrite the constitution from last year – which his critics call a coup – were necessary to save Tunisia from years of stagnation.
While Tunisians have embraced the rights they won in 2011, they continue to suffer from economic decline, corruption and political strife.
Syed has repeatedly vowed not to become a dictator and said he would retain the rights and freedoms he had achieved after the 2011 revolution when autocratic leader Zein al-Abidin Ben Ali was ousted.
However, his draft constitution brings almost all powers under the President, removing most of the checks on his authority. While this guarantees freedoms in one section, it makes them subject to new laws or undefined security requirements in another.
There has been no widespread crackdown on dissent, press bans or mass arrests of Syed’s opponents, but rights groups are concerned.
Last week Amnesty International warned against “dangerous backsliding on human rights”, while a UN reporter on judicial independence warned this month that moves to bring the judges overseeing Saeed’s body under their control. has expressed concern over the rights of the fair. testing.
Now 70, Hammami has been a political activist since his student days, when he was arrested in 1972 for protesting state control of university organizations under Tunisia’s first post-independence leader, Habib Bourguiba.
Accused of conspiring against state security, he was dragged “like a rooster”, repeatedly beaten on the head and genitals, and burned with cigarettes for hours, he said.
After a month of solitary confinement, torture and threats of execution, in which mud was thrown over his body, he was thrown into an open grave, leaving him on the streets of the capital.
Passing through central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, where the Interior Ministry is located and where the largest protests have taken place, he decided to devote himself to political activism.
Growing up in Tunisia’s communist movement, eventually becoming the head of the Workers’ Party, he was imprisoned and tortured during 1974–80.
Although Bourguiba later publicly admitted that Hammami was tortured, the persecution continued after Ben Ali seized power in 1987 as he alternated years in prison or in hiding, relentlessly using his presence and Keep changing places.
When Tunisians woke up in December 2010 and January 2011, angered by the self-immolation of a street vendor, Hammami was again detained and taken to the same interior ministry chambers.
“I heard people like waves in the ocean,” he said, tears welling up in his eyes, running in thousands down Habib Bourguiba Avenue the day Ben Ali fled, when Hammami heard from the cells. was.
The revolution started a new phase of his life. His wife, human rights lawyer Radhia Nasraui, was brought abroad and offered positions in new democratic governments.
He rejected them and remained an outspoken critic of successive governments, especially the Islamic Ennahda Party which is now a major enemy of Sayyid and the new constitution.
Hammami joined a small protest by political figures and civil society organizations on Friday evening against the referendum.
“Stop Kais Said,” Hammami chanted along with others, moving down Habib Bourguiba Avenue towards the Interior Ministry, where he was often imprisoned.
Hammami told Reuters the struggle for independence would resume, with police attacking his group of protesters, using pepper spray, sticks and arrests to disperse the demonstration.