Wajih Dhokkar, a medical student at the FMT (Faculté de Médecine de Tunis) has been suspended for 4 months after posting on Facebook about the conditions of studying in the university library. In his Facebook post, dating back to June 8th, 2019, Mr. Dhokkar complained about the lack of air conditioning despite the hot weather. A legitimate complaint that embodies one’s constitutional right of freedom of speech. Little did he know, however, that such a post would result in his temporary exclusion of 4 months from the university. The impact of the suspension also included banning the student from completing his hospital internship, therefore risking not validating his first semester of this academic year and repeating his fourth academic year.
On the other hand, the disciplinary council of the university justified its decision by accusing the student of breaking his duty of reservation, of spreading misleading information about the administration, and of defamation. In addition, the med student didn’t get any official announcement of suspension from the university of Tunis until September the 6th, taking into consideration that, legally, the verdict of suspension should have officially been delivered from this institution. Furthermore, when Mr. Dhokkar asked for an official paper of the verdict at first, he was denied one, impeding him from filing a lawsuit against the university. In a declaration to our reporter, Mr. Dhokkar informed us that though the disciplinary council took place on July 26th,2019, the verdict of the council was only officially delivered to him on September 10th,2019. He also underscored that while the verdict was officially signed on September 6th,2019, the administration of the FMT started crossing off his name from the courses’ list on September 4th, 2019, “a violation of the law” as stated by the concerned party.
After preventing their colleague from joining the university on the 10th of September, the Tunisian Organization of Young Doctors (l’Organisation Tunisienne des Jeunes Médecins) publicly endorsed Mr. Dhokkar’s cause and tried to engage with university administration in a negotiation to revoke the verdict, only to be met with rejection from the second part. As a result, the organization filed a lawsuit and called for a strike among external, internal, and resident doctors on November 4th, 2019. On a similar note, med students and young doctors expressed their dismay by launching a “we are not going to suck it up” movement (#Manech_Saktin). Adding insult to injury, the administrative court rejected Mr. Dhokkar request of treating his case as an emergency.
On November 4th, all students of medicine schools in Tunisia: Tunis, Monastir, Sousse, and Sfax went on national strike to denounce the violation of freedom of expression. External, internal, and resident doctors all gathered for a sit-down in their faculties for a duration of 24-hour. According to Mr. Jed Henchiri , president of the Tunisian Organization of Young Doctors, “The decision to observe a general strike was taken in the absence of any desire for dialogue from the heads of the Tunis med school.” The organization and the student have also called for the intervention of the Ministry of Health in order to resolve the problem.
The Father of Mr Dhokkar, a doctor in medical anthropology, expressed his disapproval of the response of the dean and his full support to his son in a statement. He also mentioned that he initiated a contact with the dean where he tried to resolve the problem with him and reach an agreement. In this regard, Dr. Jouini demanded a written apology Mr. Wajih Dhokkar and an admission of his “mistake”, which the latter refused to deliver.
Unfortunately, Mr. Dhokkar is far from being the only student subjected to such a treatment from his faculty administration and his case remains unsolved.
In the same year of 2019, another med student named Ibrahim Chaabane was investigated by the disciplinary council of the med school of Sfax for publishing a post in which he criticized the dean of the university for closing the studying area. Mr. Chaabane issued an apology post on his Facebook profile after the incident and no further punishments were imposed on him.
Despite abandoning campus policing in Tunisian universities since the 2011 revolution, censorship, persecution, and misuse of power continue as main practices of academic hierarchy in some universities. Freedom of speech may be blossoming in our political system, but it has no place in some of our academic institutions where criticizing an authority figure can cause a student some heavy consequences.
At the end, as a student body supporting and sporting free speech, we wish that Mr. Dhokkar will reach an agreement with the FMT’s administration and that the verdict of his suspension will be revoked.