Freedom by Yosra Béjaoui – Tunisia

I don’t remember the exact day but it was on January 2009. It was a very normal and peaceful day in Tunisia but unfortunately it wasn’t the case in another place of the world (2300 kilometers away to be exact). It was the Israel-Gaza war. The Gaza strip was hit by airstrikes, unfortunately, bombs don’t distinguish between guilty or innocent. I don’t remember the details of this war the only thing I remember was the traumatizing images that I saw on TV of dead corpses of babies and children covered in blood and dust, the voices of mothers and fathers crying for their innocent children, hospitals were flooded with casualties, people thrown on the street dead, destroyed and damaged homes flattened with the floor…

I thought that it must be awful and unfair for people who live there. I never understood war, I never understood why innocent people have to be killed to fulfill other’s ambitions. I was only 16 at the time and there was not much I could do. The only thing is to go out on the street and protest. I know that this protest won’t affect the war, it won’t stop the bombs from falling but at least I won’t be silent towards what’s happening. Because I believe that “the greatest tragedy is not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people,” (Martin Luther King) I felt that I needed to go out to the street, to scream, and to say “no” to war, no to killing, and to stop the insanity.

A day after, a march was organized which me and my friend Hela decided to take part in. As soon as we heard the whistles, we gathered and started protesting against the war. It wasn’t long after that when the police came and wanted to scatter the march. Because of fear that the protest will turn against the corrupted regime, they countered it with force– by beating us with their batons and arresting some protesters. Me and my friend Hela ran as fast as we could, I could no longer hear the slogans of the protesters nor the badmouthing of the policeman, and all I heard was the beat of my heart and my heavy breathing. I was afraid because I heard some horrible and scary stories about the police in my country, about the human rights violations, the arbitrary and unfair trials and the torture of prisoners. Hela was crying she tripped and was injured on the knee. We were afraid of being caught by the police. A policeman on his motorcycle was on our tails, he was scary and he was saying bad words. Luckily a woman heard the fuss and let us in her home.

Later, I went home with a broken heart and many questions in my mind.  Why was I being chased by policeman when all I did was raising my voice and express myself. I never questioned my freedom before and I think I never took the issue of freedom seriously until that moment. That day I asked myself “Am I free?” My heart was heavy, I knew for a fact that I wasn’t. I wasn’t free to express myself, I wasn’t free to state my opinions, I felt that my freedom was stolen from me.

For me, that event was a real eye-opener to the situation of freedom in my country. If I didn’t have the right to protest freely and peacefully without being afraid of persecution or jail, then there is a huge and a serious problem.

They say “freedom is not given but has to be taken.” I am so happy that we took our freedom on January 14th, 2011. I think that it is one of the biggest achievements of the Tunisian revolution.

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