News / Middle East

Tunisian Human Rights Lawyer says More Political Change is Needed

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Lisa Bryant

For years, human-rights activists in Tunisia have been imprisoned and harassed by the hardline government of former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.  Now, they face new challenges as Tunisia faces an uncertain future.  Lisa Bryant interviewed one of Tunisia's most prominent human-rights lawyers, Radia Nasraoui, and reports from Tunis.

Radia Nasraoui's mobile phone rings non stop.  Make that several phones that she answers between conversations with journalists and colleagues.  She has just finished attending a meeting of Tunisian and international lawyers and human rights activists in Tunis to discuss the changes taking place here - long-time president Zine el Abidine toppled from power, a new interim government, continued violence, and an uncertain future for this North African country.

Nasraoui said the grassroots protests that ousted Ben Ali are only the beginning of a victory for democracy.  She believes all of those linked to Ben Ali's regime must leave power as well - including long-time prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi and Tunisia's new transitional president, Fouad Mebazaa.

Nasraoui is also skeptical about Mr. Mebazaa's call for elections in two months.  Given the dearth of a credible opposition after years of one-party rule, she believes it is merely a ploy to keep the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally Party in power.

She instead calls for grassroots democracy, starting with new town and village councils that will create a new constitution.  She says one is already being formed in the southern town of Sidi Bouzid, where the self-immolation of a man sparked the protests that toppled Ben Ali.

Nasraoui has long been a thorn in the side of Tunisia's ruling establishment.  So has her husband, Hamam Hamammi, spokesman for the Tunisian Communist Workers Party, outlawed under Ben Ali's regime.  

Police broke into their house and arrested Hamammi last week.  Nasraoui said he was released hours before Ben Ali fled the country on Friday.

But Nasraoui said Hamammi is still in hiding.  She says the couple still face threats from supporters of the old regime who want to exact revenge.  But she is still active - trying to ensure that tumultuous changes taking place in Tunisia will pave the way for a stable democracy.

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