Update, 29 November 2012: A Tunisian magistrate has dropped the charges against a young woman raped by police. The unnamed women had been facing indecency charges for being alone in a car with her fiance before police allegedly separated the couple and sexually assaulted her. An attorney for the women said that charges had been dropped against her client and her fiance, and that rape charges would be brought against two officers with corruption charges against a third.
For Tunisia, still transitioning from years of dictatorship, movement like this towards justice and accountability is a great sign. Get the full story below.
4 October 2012:
Tunisian protesters are back on the streets. This time they are turning out en masse to stand with a woman who was raped by police. Instead of being protected, she is being charged with violating modesty laws. Hundreds of people stood outside the courthouse in Tunis yesterday, furious that their newly elected government is failing to protect women's rights.
The woman facing charges has described to the media how she and her boyfriend were sitting in their car when three police approached. The police then bullied the couple, saying they could face long prison terms for "immorality" if they didn't hand over money. Handcuffing the boyfriend, one police officer took him to a cash machine while the others took turns raping the 27-year-old woman.
Officials have taken both police officers into custody, promising to judge them severely for their crimes, but they've also decided to proceed with an investigation into the "immorality" charges against the victim. This isn't a new phenomenon; women in Tunisia are often held responsible for their rape, where public flirtation is seen as an invitation. And this case is no different.
The case has become a flash point for frustrated citizens who are unsure whether the newly elected Islamist Ennahda party can uphold the ideals of the revolution that ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. After the election last October, Ennahda party leaders assured the public that the rights of "women, men, the religious and the non-religious" would be adequately protected. But some are concerned that more radical Islamic groups wield an increasing influence over the current government.
Mohamed Belhaj, a small business and family man, told the Guardian that he is ready to help right the ship if the government stumbles: "We want to know where we are on women's rights right now. We want the truth from the police. We want the government to understand that we are still ready to come out on to the streets to demonstrate."
In Tunisia, as in all of the new fragile post Arab spring societies, extremists and progressives are vying to move their countries in different directions. Massive public support in this cruel case shows that the Tunisians that took to the streets for democracy are going to keep fighting to ensure their rights are upheld.
Read more: Check out our article from earlier this year where we discuss what the Arab spring means for women. This court case will be a crucial test. And for more on the situation in Tunisia, Foreign Policy has a succinct overview of the political situation.
Sources: Daily Star, Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, Gulf News, BBC, Guardian, Avaaz, Foreign Policy