Tunisia denies torturing detained lawyer who collapsed in court

Tunisia’s interior ministry on Thursday dismissed allegations from lawyers and a rights group that police officers had tortured detained attorney Mahdi Zagrouba, who collapsed in court.

Zagrouba, a well-known critic of President Kais Saied, was arrested on Monday for allegedly verbally and physically assaulting a police officer during protests against the arrest of another lawyer, according to prosecutors.

During a court appearance on Wednesday, Zagrouba claimed he had been tortured by officers before collapsing and being taken to the hospital, according to fellow lawyers and witnesses.

“He mentioned the names of the policemen who tortured him before he suffered a collapse and coma,” lawyer Souad Boker, who was representing Zagrouba, said.

The interior ministry strongly denied the accusations. “We categorically deny that the lawyer was subjected to torture or ill-treatment. It is a scenario to escape responsibility after it was proven that he assaulted a policeman during a protest this week,” ministry official Fakher Bouzghaia said.

President Saied, without directly addressing the allegations, stated after a meeting with the Minister of Justice Laila Jafel that the state is responsible for ensuring every prisoner receives treatment that preserves their dignity.

Zagrouba’s arrest came after police stormed the bar association’s headquarters twice in two days. Other lawyers, including Boubaker Ben Thabet and Toumi Ben Farhat, and Bassam Trifi, head of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, claimed Zagrouba was subjected to severe torture during his detention.

The Bar Association issued a statement calling for criminal prosecution of those responsible and announced a national strike on Thursday.

Following Zagrouba’s arrest, the European Union expressed concern over the imprisonment of civil society figures, journalists, and political activists, demanding clarifications from Tunisia.

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