Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

Tunisia: Political and social forces must ensure peaceful, democratic and inclusive transition

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 8 October 2013
Cite as Article 19, Tunisia: Political and social forces must ensure peaceful, democratic and inclusive transition, 8 October 2013, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the political forces and civil society in Tunisia to seize the opportunity provided by the Quartet-sponsored negotiations to rekindle the democratic transition process in order to ensure that it remains peaceful and inclusive, and leads to full respect for human rights, in particular for freedom of expression and information.

"The political forces in power and in opposition must negotiate, in the national interest, in order to protect the democratic transition from political and ideological divides and from partisan calculations, and in order to reach agreement on the adoption of a new constitution that meets the expectations of Tunisians and ensures respect for human rights" said Dr Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

The democratic transition process has been in an unprecedented deadlock since Mohamed Brahmi, a member of the opposition, was assassinated on 25 July 2013. He was well known for his critical stance towards Ennahda, the governing party. The various political forces have still not managed to find a common platform in order to give fresh impetus to the democratic transition process, which has been massively compromised by the three political assassinations in the past 12 months and the repeated attacks on freedom of expression and information.

An ARTICLE 19 delegation led by Dr Agnès Callamard, the organisation's Executive Director, undertook a research mission to Tunisia from 15 to 19 September 2013 in order to assess how the country's freedom of expression and information situation had evolved over the 3-month period prior to the visit.

Based on the research mission's findings, ARTICLE 19 is able to assert that:

1. The political crisis has created an atmosphere of mistrust and uncertainty within the political and civil society, thus contributing to the spread of conspiracy theories, rumours and falsehoods. Ideological and partisan divides have also led to a profound political and social polarisation.

2. Crisis settlement and mediation are the work of civil-society organisations, in particular the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Union of Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts (UTICA), the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) and the National Office for Tunisian Handicrafts (ONAT), which have demonstrated a political and democratic maturity that the mainstream political parties still lack.

3. August and September saw a rise in the number of judicial investigations and proceedings against journalists accused of committing a range of offences including breach of the peace, inciting disorder, blaming a civil servant for illegal acts, and defamation. For ARTICLE 19, it is worrying to find that all of these judicial cases were brought under the Penal Code adopted by the Ben Ali regime and not under Decree-law 115 passed in 2011, which should prevail in cases relating to freedom of expression and information.

On 13 September, three journalists - Zied El Hani, Tahar Ben Hassine and Zouheir Eljiss - appeared before the courts in different cases. El Hani was arrested for defamation and blaming a State civil servant for illegal acts. Ben Hassine, the owner of the El Hiwar Ettounsi TV station, stood accused of plotting against the security of the State. Eljiss, an Express FM radio journalist, was prosecuted following reported statements by his guest, who had accused President Marzouki of receiving 50,000 USD from the Qatari media network Al Jazeera.

On 9 September, two warrants were issued for the detention of Walid Zarrouk, the General Secretary of the prison officers' union, after he had published a list naming the members of the so-called 'parallel security apparatus' and posted messages on Facebook that were considered defamatory.

On 22 August, two rap stars - Weld El 15 and Klay BBJ - were arrested on stage at the Hammamet Festival for criticising the police. On 26 September, Klay BBJ was given a six-month prison sentence.

On 18 August, Mourad Meherzi, a cameraman for Astrolabe TV, was arrested for filming an egg being thrown at the Minister for Culture by the Tunisian film director and comedian Nasreddine Shili.

ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned about the charges brought against the journalists, trade unionists and artists, and expresses its dismay at the handing-down of sentences under Penal Code provisions in cases relating to freedom of expression and the press, and at the non-application of Decree-law 115 on freedom of the press, printing and publishing, whose provisions are more in keeping with international norms.

4. For their part, the judicial and security institutions are under strain owing to the lack of deep-seated structural reform that would be capable of ensuring the independence of justice, respect for the rule of law and compliance with international standards. ARTICLE 19 expresses particular dissatisfaction with the continuing use of jurisprudence that is based on a legal and judicial system inherited from the former regime, which is still in force despite the suspension of the 1959 Constitution.

5. For its part, the Broadcast Regulatory Authority (HAICA) set up on 3 May 2013 to reform and contribute to the regulation of broadcasting has had a tough start due to insufficient financial and human resources on the one hand, and to governmental interference and reluctance on the other. Of particular note are the government's unilateral appointments of the heads of public radio networks without letting HAICA know about them, and the hasty suspension of the joint committee - formed by members of the government and HAICA - without waiting for the anticipated outcomes. The committee had been created to establish the criteria applicable to the appointment of directors of public media establishments. ARTICLE 19 nevertheless received assurances during its mission that HAICA's budget had been disbursed.

6. For its part, the print media sector has experienced an acute financial crisis due, among other things, to a fall in advertising revenues from the public and private sectors. The governance of this sector, through a self-regulation body, is still an absolute priority requiring an urgent decision by the industry's professionals, namely the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) and the Tunisian Federation of Newspaper Directors (FTDJ).

In light of the above, ARTICLE 19:

1. Calls upon the political forces and civil society to seize the new opportunity for national dialogue following the governing and opposition parties' acceptance of the road map proposed by the Quartet to resolve the political crisis.

2. Urges the political and social forces to tackle the various projects to achieve a stable constitutional system that ensures human rights, including freedom of expression and information.

3. Calls upon the National Constituent Assembly to take into account the recommendations stemming from its four analyses of the different versions of the constitution and to proceed with the revision of the provisions on freedom of expression and information in order to align them with existing international norms in this area, including:

A review of the definition of freedom of expression, which, with respect to international requirements, is incomplete in the version dated 1 June 2013. The same goes for the definitions of the restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and information, and on the right to access information.

The mandate given to the constitutional authority for information is too broad and should be limited to broadcast media. Furthermore, the necessary assurances with regard to this institution's independence are incomplete.

All references to the protection of sacredness must be deleted.

4. Calls upon the Tunisian authorities to respect Decree-laws 115 and 116, and to repeal all previous texts that are at odds with the new decrees.

5. Calls upon judges, lawyers and other professionals working in the justice sector to abide by and implement the new laws, in particular Decree-laws 115 and 116, and in general the commitments and principles arising from the 2011 revolution.

6. Calls upon the Tunisian authorities to acknowledge the regulatory role of HAICA and its independence. Likewise, it calls upon the government to provide HAICA with all the necessary logistic, human and financial resources to enable it to exercise its powers fully.

7. Encourages professionals working in the print media sector and the relevant trade unions to set up a press council as soon as possible to ensure that print media are regulated and monitored in order to guarantee a free and responsible press.

8. Demands an end to all judicial proceedings against journalists and activists connected with the exercise of freedom of expression and information and their immediate release.

In this context, ARTICLE 19 undertakes to contribute to any change that improves freedom of expression and information, and to provide assistance to all actors working towards the success of the democratic transition in Tunisia. The meetings held by the ARTICLE 19 delegation in Tunisia were also an opportunity to discuss and exchange points of view with the organisation's partners and to assess their legal and technical assistance needs, especially in relation to adaptation to international norms on freedom of expression and information. ARTICLE 19 in particular expresses its full readiness to provide HAICA with technical and legal support, and to assist the print media with their self-regulation initiative.

Meetings held by the ARTICLE 19 delegation in Tunisia (16-18 September 2013)

During their stay in Tunisia, the ARTICLE 19 delegation members met, among others, with: Mustapha Ben Jaafar, President of the National Constituent Assembly; Samir Dilou, Minister for Human Rights and Transitional Justice; Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh, President of the National Bar Association; Abdessattar Ben Moussa, President of LTDH; Kacem Afaia and Samir Cheffi, Deputy General Secretaries of UGTT; Samir Majoul and Chiheb Slama, Vice President and Board Member of UTICA, respectively; Nouri Lejmi, President of HAICA; Ahmed Rahmouni, President of the Tunisian Observatory for the Independence of the Judiciary (OTIM); Nejiba Hamrouni, President of SNJT; Taieb Zahar, President of FTDJ; and Sihem Ben Sedrine, President of the National Council for Freedoms in Tunisia (CNLT). The ARTICLE 19 delegation also interviewed several Bardo sit-in demonstrators.

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