Hamma Hammami is the leader of the unauthorized Parti Communiste des Ouvriers de Tunisie (PCOT, Communist Party of Tunisian Workers), and director of the banned newspaper El Badil ("The Alternative").
Hamma Hammami was born on 8 January 1952 in El Aroussa, Tunisia. He studied Arabic literature, however due to his political activities he has never got a job as a teacher. In 1981, Hamma Hammami married Radhia Nasraoui, a lawyer and member of the executive committee of the Conseil de l'Ordre (Tunisian Bar Council), a well-known human rights defender, who has endured years of harassment and intimidation because of her human rights activities. The couple has three children: Nadia Hammami (18), Oussaïma Hammami (12) and Sarah Hammami (2 years).
Hamma Hammami's first arrests date back to the 1970s. In February 1972, he was sentenced to one and a half months' imprisonment for having participated in the students' movement. In 1974, he was sentenced to eight and a half years` imprisonment for his membership to the unauthorized association El Aamel Ettounsi (The Tunisian Worker), of which he actually spent six years in prison (1974 - 1980). At that time, Hamma Hammami had been adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. At his arrest he had been severely tortured, as a result he is still suffering at his left part of his body. The Tunisian state implicitely recognized its responsibility by sending, on its own cost, Hamma Hammami to France for medical treatment.
In May 1987, while staying in France, Hamma Hammami was tried in absentia and sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for maintaining an unauthorized association, which refers to the Communist Party of Tunisian Workers PCOT. Hamma Hammami is one of the founders of the PCOT, which the authorities have consistently refused legal registration.
The years from 1989 to 1991 were marked by several temporary arrests of Hamma Hammami. In 1991 and 1992, Hamma Hammami was subjected to a number of trials for critical articles published in the newspaper El Badil, on charges of insulting public order and spreading false information, and was sentenced to a total of two and a half years' imprisonment (suspended sentence) and 7000 dinars fine. Several editions of El Badil were forbidden, finally the newspaper was totally banned in 1991.
In autumn 1992 Hamma Hammami went into hiding. He was tried in absentia with 11 others in Gabès, and on 15 December 1992 he was sentenced to four years and nine months' imprisonment for maintaining an unauthorized association, holding unauthorized meetings, distributing leaflets and collecting money without authorization.
On 14 February 1994, while living in hiding, Hamma Hammami was arrested in the city of Sousse on charges of maintaining an unauthorized association, holding unauthorized meetings and distributing leaflets. After his arrest he was also charged with carrying a false identity card and assaulting and injuring two of the armed police officers who arrested him. In the first days after his arrest, Hamma Hammami was severely tortured on the police station of Sousse and at the Ministry of Interior. He was brutally beaten (also on the head) and sexually insulted. A police officer held a revolver at his head and threatened to kill him. The police officer stepped on Hamma Hammami's neck so that he nearly suffocated. During the torture Hamma Hammami lost consciousness twice and regained it only hours later. His lawyers, who visited him on 16 February 1994, noticed obvious traces of torture in his face and on different parts of his body. In spite of several appeals by his lawyers and his family Hamma Hammami had to wait for medical consultation till 8 March 1992, and he got medication for his cardiac disease and kidney stones only after weeks after his arrest. From this and other tortures, Hamma Hammami has still been suffering heavily from strong head-ache, renal disease, tachycardia.
On 7 April 1994, he was retried for the same offences as on 16 December 1992 (according to Tunisian law those sentenced in absentia have the right to be retried after the arrest) in Gabès and was sentenced to four years and one month's imprisonment. He had also been tried on 6 April 1994 in Sousse on charges of carrying a false identity card and assaulting two of the policemen who had arrested him. The prosecution presented a medical certificate stating that these police officers had been injured, but refused to call them to court to testify. No other evidence was produced to substantiate the charges, but he was nonetheless convicted and sentenced to five years and six months' imprisonment.
In both trials defence lawyers were not allowed to call any witnesses, and the judges failed to address breaches of procedure in pre-trial detention and to order investigations into allegations that Hamma Hammami had been tortured and ill-treated. International observers, including an Amnesty International delegate, who had travelled to Tunisia in March 1994 to observe the trials, found that the trials had been postponed without prior notice. Another Amnesty International delegate who sought to observe the trials in April 1994 was refused entry to Tunisia.
At the appeals in June 1994 the defence lawyers withdrew from the hearing in protest at the constant interruptions by the judge to their speeches. The convictions were upheld and the sentence for both cases was reduced by one year, bringing the total sentence from nine years and seven months to eight years and seven months . Hamma Hammami was sent to the Bagne of Nador, a penitentiary, where he was held, for months, in incommunicado-detention, only seeing his family visiting him for ten minutes a week.
After the verdict a solidarity campaign by national and International NGOs and well-known personalities was launched for the release of Hamma Hammami. Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. After one year and nine months' imprisonment Hamma Hammami was released on 6 November 1995.
On 14 January 1998, Hamma Hammami was arrested with his daughter Oussaïma (9 years old at that time), interrogated at a police station and subsequently released without charge. The office of Hamma Hammami's wife Radhia Nasraoui was burgled in the night from 11 to 12 February 1998, and all her files, legal codes, books, and a computer were stolen but nothing was taken from her colleagues in the same office.
In February 1998, some left-wing students were arrested following strikes and student demonstrations in protest at the conditions of study at universities. Hamma Hammami who was also sought by the police in connection with this case went into hiding on 27 February 1998. And since that time he has been living in hiding.
His wife Radhia Nasraoui was one of the lawyers of the defence team for the students and other co-defendants such as Hamma Hammami. On 11 March 1998, Radhia Nasraoui was charged in absentia (she was at that time observing a trial in Mali for AI) with the same charges as her husband and the students: setting up a criminal and terrorist gang, holding unauthorized meetings, inciting rebellion, spreading false information aiming to disturb public order, defamation against the authorities and distributing leaflets. On 30 March 1998, when she returned from Mali, she was interrogated by a judge, and she was forbidden to leave Tunisia and go outside Tunis, which meant that she could not defend or visit her clients outside the capital. From March to June 1998, Radhia Nasraoui was constantly followed by plain clothes security police, often on a motorbike and in two cars, one of which reportedly tried to run her over in April 1998. A similar incident occurred on 24 May 1998 when the motorcyclist also appeared to attempt to run her over.
Hamma Hammami's daughters were also harassed. In April 1998, Oussaïma Hammami was questioned at length at school by a teacher concerning the whereabouts of her father. On 6 June 1998, the plain clothes security forces watching Hamma Hammami's house feigned an attempt to kidnap Oussaïma. In March 1999, Nadia Hammami was followed to and from school by two members of the security forces walking closely in front of and behind her.
The level of surveillance and harassment of Hamma Hammami's family varied, but it increased dramatically in July 1999, in the weeks around the trial against Hamma Hammami and two other defendants in hiding, Radhia Nasraoui and 17 students.
The trial of the Tribunal de première instance, Court of First Instance, against Hamma Hammami and his co-defendants, which took place on 10 July 1999 in the presence of numerous foreign observers, lasted nearly 20 hours (from 10 am on Saturday 10 July until the following morning at 5 am). This marathon session was marked by Radhia Nasraoui reaffirming her commitment as a lawyer to defending prisoners of opinion, and by the accounts of her co-defendants of the torture they had experienced during their detention. The trial, which, according to observers (more than hundred Tunisian lawyers and some twenty International legal observers), was characterized by disrespect for defence rights, culminated in a unanimous walkout by defence lawyers protesting the judge's decision to prevent one of the lawyers from continuing his argument to the court.
On 14 July 1999, the verdicts were read. All of the defendants were found guilty - all except Radhia Nasraoui on multiple charges (Radhia Nasraoui's charges were reduced to one point, i.e. of aiding the holding of a meeting of an association that incites hatred) - and sentenced to prison terms. Hamma Hammami was sentenced in absentia to nine years and three months in prison. The two other defendants at large also received each nine years and three months' imprisonment. Radhia Nasraoui was given a six-month suspended sentence. Being sentenced in the same trial as her husband, she may no longer, according to Tunisian law, act as his lawyer. The 17 student co-defendants received each prison terms of between fifteen months and four years.
In the months after the trial, surveillance and intimidation of Hamma Hammami's family by security forces continued to be at a high level: More than a dozen members of security forces were involved in watching his wife and his daughters. In August 1999, Nadia Hammami narrowly avoided being run over in a children's play area by a man on a motorbike who had been following her. In mid-October 1999, after having refused to chant slogans in favour of President Ben Ali at school, Nadia Hammami was, for days, closely followed on her way to and from school by three men. On 20 October 1999, as she was scared to go home on her own, her schoolmates came with her and had to intervene to prevent one of the men following her from entering the building where Nadia Hammami lived.
Police also harrassed and intimidated Radhia Nasraoui's extended family, searching their homes without warrants, threatening them with violence or arrest, and interrogating them about her and Hamma Hammami: Early in the morning of 7 September 1999, around 50 police officers came to the farmhouse where three of Radhia Nasraoui's uncles lived with their family. The police threatened the family with farm implements, broke down doors and searched the house from top to bottom. When one of the uncles asked the police for a search warrant, they told him that they did not need a warrant, as they were police officers, and threatened to arrest him. They ordered him to go to the local police station, where he was interrogated about Hamma Hammami and Radhia Nasraoui. About two weeks previously, one of the uncles, Mohamed, had had his car confiscated, and was interrogated about Hamma Hammami and Radhia Nasraoui at the police station while he was trying to retrieve his car. At about the same time, another uncle, Naceur, was arrested at around midnight with his wife and two children (aged six and two), in their car outside the farm. They were interrogated for over three hours before they were released.
Hamma Hammami's family have also been harassed and intimidated. In summer 1999, police went to the house of his cousin, Lotfi, and other relatives, and interrogated them about Hamma Hammami's whereabouts, kicking and slapping them.
Hamma Hammami has now been in hiding for nearly four years. During this time, he has continued his political activities, e.g. by managing the clandestine newspaper Saut Acha'b ("Voice of the People"). From time to time, he "had his voice heard" in interviews, for example in an interview, entitled "Je ferai entendre ma voix", given in summer 2000 to the journalist Taoufik Ben Brik for the French newspaper "Humanité". On 5 August 2001, he appeared on the London-based TV Al Mustakilla.
On 15 January, Hamma Hammami and two of his comarades of the Tunisian Workers Communist Party (PCOT), Abdeljabbar Madouri and Samir Taamallah, announced via their lawyers to come out of hiding after four years and to appear before court for a retrial.
On 2 February, Hamma Hammami, Abdeljabbar Madouri und Samir Taamallah were forcibly removed from the courtroom by six policemen and arrested, in front of many witnesses.
The court confirmed the sentences for Hamma Hammami and Samir Taamallah and increased Abdeljabbar Madouris sentence by two years.
The campaign "Solidarity with Hamma Hammami aims to free Hamma Hammami and his two comarades.