From his prison cell in Bizerte (65km north of Tunis), The Tunisian prisoner Ramzi Bettibi managed to smuggle a very alarming letter that found its way on to the Internet (available in French). Ramzi is serving a four-year sentence at Bizerte for copying, onto a forum board he moderated, an online statement from a group threatening terror attacks if former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon attended the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) that was held in Tunisia in 2005. Ramzi Bettibi was arrested on 15 March 2005 at the internet café where he worked. In prison he is frequently subjected to torture, which the authorities hope will make him collaborate with the State Security services. “Bettibi should be freed because the government never proved that he had a criminal intent to threaten others or to incite violence,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch in a statement published last year. “Under these circumstances, cutting and pasting on the Internet should not be a crime,” she added.
In his letter, Ramzi describes a secret detention facility near Bizerte city, where he has been interrogated by CIA and French-speaking agents about his alleged ties to Jihadist groups in Iraq and online activities. According to the letter, the prisoners are being interrogated and held in containers in a secret location around 15 minutes drive from Bizerte prison.
Since the closure of the secret CIA jails hosted by Poland and Romania following the Washington Post’s revelations and other media reports, there have been rumors circulating about the transfer of prisoners to other CIA facilities somewhere in North Africa. But this letter from an “eye-witness” (even if no one can confirm or deny that Ramzi Bettibi was the real author) appears to offer the first concrete “evidence” of the existence of such facility in Tunisia. It also details the prison's possible location and the identities of some of the prisoners who are being interrogated and held clandestinely. Surprisingly, the letter was written on June 9, 2007, one day only after the publication of the second report of “Secret detentions and illegal transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member states” adopted by the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.
This is a call from my imprisonment in Bizerte Civil prison. It's a call to the world to save me from imminent danger to my safety. At the end of last April, I was transferred to another prison located 15 minutes driving from my previous Bizerte Civil prison. I was totally shocked when I found myself in a secret CIA detention where other detainees also were held in containers.
I was interrogated by a French-speaking person about my online relationship with Iraqi Jihadist groups. I mentioned to him that his information is totally not accurate and I'm a free speech prisoner. I also told him that HRW, Amnesty, and many other organizations have talked about my case. The American interrogator so surprisingly yelled at the Tunisian officers. They assaulted and threatened me with fabricating a story of my attempting to escape from prison. They also threatened to relocate me to another secret prison if I talked to my family about what I saw.
Things didn't stop at that. They returned two weeks later. Tunisian state security officers cuffed me and an American security officer asked me about my role in ALSAHAB (Al-Qaeda's media agent). He also questioned me about the ALIKHLAS website and Alansar online forum. They gave me two documents to pick from. The first is my death certificate and the second is my release certificate. They also threatened me to hurt my brother.
اللهم اشهد انّ مصيري في خطر انقذوا المعتقلين في ذلك السجن الامريكي لقد سمعت أن منهم السعودي سعيد الغامدي والتونسي ابو عمر التونسي…
ابحثوا عن هذا السجن إنه لايبعد كثيرا عن بنزرت وربما هو في ثكنة عسكرية حسب ما فهمت من المكان.
I no longer can bear what is happening to me. At once, Tunisian state security agents attack me, and this time CIA agents and secret detentions came into the picture.
Oh God, witness that my fate is in great danger. Save the other detainees in this American detention. I've heard of a Saudi detainee named Saeed Al-ghamdi, and another Tunisian detainee named Abou Omar Al-tunisi.
Search for this prison. It's not far from Bizerte. I understood that It's may be located in a military Barracks.
According to a previous report issued by the International Association for the Support of Political Prisoners (AISPP), Ramzi Bettibi began a new hunger strike on January 18, 2007 in protest against maltreatment and abuse in prison. In a statement published online on March 12th, 2007, the National Council for Freedoms in Tunisia (CNLT) described the way he was tortured:
Le 23 février 2007, Ramzi Bettibi, le prisonnier du net, a été soumis à la violence extrême de 3 officiers en civil dans la prison de Bizerte, et qui se sont présentés comme la brigade de la Sûreté de l’Etat. Ils lui ont attaché les bras et les jambes à une chaise et ont voulu lui faire ingurgiter du lait de force pour qu’il cesse sa grève de la faim commencée en protestation contre des violences perpétrées à son encontre antérieurement. Une des ses dents a été cassée.
C’est la cinquième fois en l’espace de quelques mois que Ramzi Bettibi subit des séances de torture en prison visant à le faire collaborer avec les services de la Sûreté de l’Etat.
On February 23, 2007, Ramzi Bettibi, the Tunisian “prisoner of the Net”, was subjected to extreme violence in the Bizerte prison at the hands of three plain-clothes officers who claimed to be members of a State Security brigade. They chained his arms and legs to a chair and tried to force-feed him milk, to break the hunger strike he started in order to protest previous episodes of violence against him. One of his teeth was broken in the process.
This is the fifth time in the space of a few months that Ramzi Bettibi has been tortured in prison, in order to make him collaborate with the State Security services.