Amnesty International Report 2006 - Tunisia
|Publication Date||23 May 2006|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2006 - Tunisia, 23 May 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/447ff7bc7.html [accessed 17 December 2017]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
Dozens of people were sentenced to lengthy prison terms following unfair trials on terrorism-related charges. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported. Hundreds of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, remained in prison. Many had been held for more than a decade. Solitary confinement and denial of medical care in prisons continued to be reported despite government promises to end long-term solitary confinement. Freedom of expression and association remained severely restricted.
In July the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally won 71 of the available 85 seats in the country's first ever indirect elections to the new 126-member upper house, the House of Councillors. The remaining 41 seats were appointed by President Ben 'Ali in August. The Tunisian Workers' General Union (Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens) boycotted the elections.
In November, Tunisia hosted the World Summit on the Information Society, an intergovernmental and civil society meeting held under the auspices of the UN. The choice of Tunisia to host the meeting was criticized by national and international human rights organizations because of its wide-ranging restrictions on freedom of expression and association. In September, 11 governments and the European Union issued a joint statement raising concerns about restrictions on the participation of civil society groups at the Summit by the Tunisian authorities. Human rights defenders were intimidated and a French journalist was stabbed. AI delegates were prevented from meeting representatives of the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie, CNLT) at its Tunis office, by Tunisian security officers.
The Tunisia Action Plan, part of the European Neighbourhood Policy, came into force in July. It set out a series of actions and initiatives, and a regular review mechanism, on issues including human rights, migration and the fight against terrorism.
Violations in the 'war on terror'
Dozens of people were reportedly arrested and charged under anti-terrorism legislation passed in December 2003; at least 30 people were tried and sentenced. Detainees were often held incommunicado, sometimes for weeks, and there were allegations of torture to extract confessions or to force detainees to sign statements.
- At least 13 prisoners, known as the Bizerte group, were sentenced in April to prison terms of between five and 30 years, reduced to a maximum of 20 years on appeal in July. The accused were allegedly tortured and ill-treated during their detention in premises of the Ministry of the Interior. They had been arrested in April 2004 and charged under the anti-terrorism law of December 2003.
- In September, Tawfik Selmi, a Tunisian-Bosnian dual national, appeared before a military court in Tunis on charges of membership of a terrorist organization abroad. The court reportedly refused to allow the defence team access to the case file. The trial was due to recommence in February 2006. Tawfik Selmi had been expelled from Luxembourg in March 2003.
- In March, Adil Rahali was sentenced under anti-terrorism legislation to 10 years' imprisonment, reduced to five years on appeal in October. A Tunisian national, he had been extradited from Ireland in April 2004 after his application for asylum was refused, and arrested upon arrival in Tunisia. He was secretly detained in the offices of the State Security Department of the Ministry of the Interior, where he was reportedly tortured.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression remained severely curtailed. In October, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression publicly expressed concern at the lack of freedom of expression in Tunisia. In his statement he called on the Tunisian government to take action to increase freedom of expression and press freedom, and to release unconditionally all those imprisoned because of their beliefs or for their work as journalists.
The first congress of the Union of Tunisian Journalists (Syndicat des journalistes tunisiens, SJT), scheduled to be held in September, was banned without explanation after its president, Lotfi Hajji, had been repeatedly summoned for questioning by the State Security Department. The SJT was formed in 2004 in response to widespread censorship, to defend the rights of journalists and promote media freedom.
Human rights activists and organizations
Human rights defenders continued to face harassment and sometimes physical violence. Many human rights defenders, their families and friends were subjected to surveillance by the authorities, and their activities were severely restricted.
- In January, large numbers of police officers surrounded the CNLT headquarters, preventing members from attending the organization's general assembly. The police allegedly said they were under strict instructions not to allow the meeting to take place. On 3 and 4 September, the entrance to the building was again obstructed by plain-clothes police officers, who refused entry to members of the board. In addition, Sihem Ben Sedrine, the CNLT spokesperson, was subjected to a smear campaign in the state-controlled media, in which she was accused of "acting like a prostitute" and serving the interests of the US and Israeli governments.
- In March, lawyer and human rights defender Radhia Nasraoui was beaten up in the street by police officers. She was on her way to a demonstration to protest at the Tunisian government's invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to attend the World Summit on the Information Society. She sustained a broken nose, cuts to her forehead and extensive bruising. No action was known to have been taken against those responsible.
- As human rights organizations organized activities in the run-up to the World Summit on the Information Society, one group particularly targeted was the Tunisian Human Rights League (Ligue tunisienne pour la défense des droits de l'homme, LTDH). In September a court order effectively prevented the LTDH from carrying out preparatory activities two days before its national congress. The order was in response to a complaint by 22 people, reportedly close to the authorities, who said they had been unfairly dismissed as members from the LTDH.
Attacks on the independence of the judiciary
In a series of intimidatory measures, judges' activities and right to freedom of expression were further restricted.
- In August, members were barred from the office of the Association of Tunisian Judges (Association des Magistrats Tunisiens, AMT), under orders from the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. After calls for more independence for the judiciary, the AMT's telephone, fax and Internet access were increasingly disrupted, then effectively shut down. According to reports, judges were arbitrarily transferred to isolated areas, far from their families, in an attempt to intimidate and silence them.
Prisoners of conscience
People continued to be at risk of imprisonment, harassment and intimidation because of their non-violent beliefs.
- Mohamed Abbou, a lawyer and human rights defender, was sentenced in April to three and a half years in prison, largely for publishing articles critical of the authorities on the Internet. Tunisian lawyers and civil society activists who protested at his trial were subjected to harassment and intimidation by the police on several occasions. His lawyers were reportedly denied permission to visit him in prison despite repeated attempts. His sentence was confirmed on appeal in June. At the end of 2005 he was imprisoned in El-Kef, 200 kilometres from his family home in Tunis, making visits difficult. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted the opinion in November that his detention was arbitrary.
In April the authorities signed an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which allowed it to visit prisons regularly to assess conditions of detention and the treatment of prisoners. The ICRC started visiting prisons in June.
Also in April the government said it would no longer hold prisoners in solitary confinement for more than 10 days. This commitment was given in a meeting with Human Rights Watch, which alleged that up to 40 political prisoners were held in solitary confinement or in small groups isolated from the general prisoner population. The government also said that Human Rights Watch would be allowed access to prisons when it next sent representatives to Tunisia.
However, throughout the year large numbers of political prisoners went on repeated hunger strikes to protest against the continuing denial of medical care and harsh prison conditions.
Torture and death in custody
- In June, Houcine Louhichi, a taxi driver from Tabarka in the north-west province of Jendouba, died shortly after his transfer to Rabta Hospital in Tunis. A few days earlier, he had been released by the State Security Department in Tabarka, where he was detained incommunicado for almost two days and allegedly tortured until he lost consciousness. On his release, there were bruises all over his body. The reason for his detention was reportedly that he had carried in his taxi a Tunisian national wanted in connection with an alleged terrorist offence.
AI country visits
An AI delegate visited Tunisia in June to observe the appeal of lawyer and human rights defender Mohammed Abbou. In November, AI delegates attended the World Summit on the Information Society.