Boupacha, Djamila

Masters of Freedom
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Born into a middle-class Muslim family in 1942, Djamila Boupacha was more French than Algerian in her earliest years.

The onset of the Algerian war of independence in November 1954 forced her to choose between cultures; like virtually all Muslim Algerians who had been raised in the French cultural and linguistic tradition, Boupacha joined the National Liberation Front (FLN) which fought a bitter and bloody guerilla war against French military forces. She was convinced that France and the pied noir settlers would never treat the Muslim majority as equals.


In 1961, Boupacha was arrested and accused of having bombed the "Brasserie des Facultés," a café near the University of Algiers. Because she refused to confess to the charges, she suffered a series of tortures including being beaten, kicked and subjected to electric shocks and sexual abuse. To make her confess, cigarettes were ground out against her legs and breasts, and she was raped with an empty bottle. When she came to trial,Boupacha had as her attorney Gisèle Halimi , a woman determined to fight for justice even in a colonial society under martial law. Largely due to Halimi's legal skills, eloquence and passion for the truth, Boupacha had her case taken through a series of courts in Algeria. Eventually, Boupacha was transferred to France and won release from prison at the time of the amnesty that accompanied the achievement of Algerian independence in 1962.


French public opinion, although long aware of the torture used by French military authorities in Algeria, was nevertheless incensed by the nature of the atrocities committed against Boupacha. The determination of Halimi, which resulted in a book on the case coauthored with Simone de Beauvoir , led to the creation of a Djamila Boupacha Committee in Paris, which received the support of many of the luminaries of French intellectual life, including Simone de Beauvoir, François Mauriac and Germaine Tillion . Despite the determination of Halimi to secure justice for her client by exposing the individuals who had tortured her, the French Army refused to cooperate in the investigation, and the magistrates who were attempting to secure justice found themselves faced by a stone wall of official resistance.