A couple have been sentenced to several months in prison in Tunisia after they were caught naked in their car.
Nassim Ouadi, a 33-year-old French-Algerian, and his 44-year-old Tunisian girlfriend were sentenced on Wednesday by a judge at the Carthage district court, having been convicted of public indecency, intoxication and insulting a public official.
According to their lawyer, Ghazi Mrabet, the couple were driving last Friday when they pulled over in Gammarth, a suburb of the capital, Tunis, to discuss the route.
“After two minutes, a police car arrived, and asked the couple for their IDs,” the lawyer said in a statement posted on Facebook.
The woman handed over her ID from her handbag, but Ouadi, who does not speak any Arabic, went to get his passport from his suitcase, which was in the boot of the car.
“The policemen shouted at him, insulted him and forced him to the ground. He handed over his passport, and they then searched his luggage and then the car, even under the carpets,” the lawyer added.
The couple were then taken to a police station, but after 20 minutes were told they could go home. A police officer warned them, however, that the episode would not end there.
“The Franco-Algerian, believing himself in France or in a film, then told the police: ‘You think it will stop there? I want your names and your numbers. I intend to speak to my embassy. And that’s when your lives will change,’” Mrabet’s Facebook statement continued.
Ouadi was then accused of contempt of a public official, indecent assault and refusal to obey the police – charges often levelled against protesters in Tunisia, or against couples publicly displaying affection.
But the couple’s arrest last week, and subsequent sentencing, has drawn widespread outrage on social media, as reports began to emerge that the couple were first approached by police as they were kissing.
According to the police, they were found “in an indecent position”.
The man was handed four months in prison for “public indecency” and “refusing to obey the police”, with the woman given a two-month sentence on the first charge only.
A spokesperson for the public prosecutor’s office, Sofiene Sliti said.”It’s an independent decision. What has been reported nationally and internationally is wrong, they weren’t arrested for a kiss, the couple was naked,” he added.
At the hearing Wednesday, the woman collapsed into tears when the court president read a police description saying a sexual act was in process when the couple were stopped on October 1 in a suburb of Tunis.
The woman said that her friend had simply taken her into his arms when the plainclothes police stopped them and made them get out of the car.
The Frenchman confirmed to the judge that he had tried to film the police to make a complaint about their behaviour.
A dozen defence lawyers had been arguing for an acquittal for the couple. The majority of the lawyers were working for free on the case, which has triggered an uproar in Tunisia over morality campaigns and police behaviour.
The defence pointed to numerous flaws in the case, including hearings in Arabic which the Frenchman, who is of Algerian origin, did not understand.
“It is normal that he reacts badly when his fundamental rights were being violated,” said lawyer Ghazi Mrabet, whose client is accused of intimidating police.
He pointed to what he said was “bad faith” on the part of the police, who he said were looking for revenge after being implicated over their handling of the case.
“This case highlights key problems with the judicial system and the police. Abuse of powers… lack of respect for citizens and their rights, attacks on individual liberty,” said former deputy Nadia Chaabane, who is a member of a group to support the couple.
“The problem is that we have judges now who accept all these breaches and procedural problems,” she said before the judgement.
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