Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2003 - Tunisia

Harassment of LTDH and its members

Legal proceedings55

At the end of 2003, the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH, Ligue tunisienne des droits de l'Homme) was the object of examination by magistrates and open complaints on several occasions targeting the League itself, its sections, officers and some of its members.

Trial of the Steering Committee of LTDH

The appeal to quash the proceedings against the LTDH Steering Committee, following its 5th congress, is still under way. On 21st June 2001, the Court of Appeal of Tunis confirmed the verdict of the Court of first instance to cancel the proceedings of the last LTDH congress (October 2000), on the basis of a complaint lodged by four members of LTDH, supporters of the Democratic Constitutional Party (Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique – RCD, party in government).

Legal proceedings against LTDH sections

Gabès Section: following brutal police intervention on 19th October 2002, the congress of the Gabès Section was banned. It did nevertheless take place on 1st December 2002, but a participant lodged a complaint to have the proceedings cancelled. This cancellation was confirmed by decision of the court of first instance in Tunis on 12th May 2003. The League appealed against the verdict.

Korba and Kébilia Sections and of Hammam-Lif Ez-zahra and Radhès: the LTDH was the object of summary judgements, on 29th November and 20th December 2003 respectively, aiming at cancelling the general assemblies of these sections on account of refusal by certain RCD members to merge with the sections of Korba and Kébilia and of Hammam-Lif Ez-zahra and Radhès. The question of substance, to be examined by the Court of first instance of Tunis, is outstanding as of end 2003.

Sfax Section: On 18th January 2003, four members of the LTDH section, RCD members, lodged a complaint against the League which had convened a congress for 1st and 2nd February in order to set up a second section in Sfax. On 30th January 2003, the judge in chambers decided to stay the committee's decision to hold a congress, this judgement is to be confirmed by the Court of first instance in Tunis.

Monastir Section: the appeal proceedings in the matter of confiscation of the premises of the Monastir Section are still under way. In 2002, the owner of the premises of the section obtained cancellation of the tenancy contract which had just been signed with the LTDH, stating that she (the owner) was not in full possession of her faculties at the time of signing. The LTDH, which appealed the decision, was able to rent another office as from September 2003.

Obstacles to LTDH financing

On 29th August 2003, the Director for Political Affairs of the Ministry of Interior notified Mr. Mokhtar Trifi, President of LTDH, of the ban imposed by the Tunisian Government on receiving the second volume of financing granted by the European union (EU) to the LTDH, in the context of the European initiative for democracy and human rights (IEDDH). On 12th September, the LTDH was informed by its bank (BIAT) that the proceeding of this second transfer "could not be made available to the [LTDH] due to lack of necessary authorisations". To justify this obstacle, the authorities based themselves on the measures of law 154 (1959) and of the decree of 8th May 1922. However, the law only concerns charity associations and "those recognised of national interest" which is not the case of the LTDH, and the decree only concerns money resulting from public collection. This funding was obtained by the LTDH in April 2001 in the framework of a project entitled "restructuring the LTDH (project B7-70/2001/3185)" and the first phase has been completed.

By the end 2003, financing designed to the LTDH were still frozen.

On 9th January 2004, in reply to a question in parliament concerning financing by the EU of independent NGO in Tunisia, the Commissioner for Foreign Affairs of the European union, Mr. Christopher Patten, stated that the "European commission raised the question with the Tunisian authorities" and that they had "explained that law [154] is indeed applicable to all Tunisian NGO receiving foreign financing", but that "in a spirit of tolerance and conciliation" it

had not been applied to the first payment by the Commission in the framework of this project. Moreover, the authorities recalled that the LTDH had been the object of a court decision concerning its activities in preparing its forthcoming general assembly and re-election of its bureau. The Commissioner stated that "without passing any judgement on the legal basis mentioned by the Tunisian authorities, the Commission was in favour of a political solution to this problem".

Legal proceedings and harassment of officers and members of the LTDH

A complaint was lodged on 28th December 2002 against Mr. Hamda Mezguich, member of the Bizerte Section, by a member of the LTDH, RCD supporter of the Jendouba Section, for acts of violence during the Jendouba Congress (September 2002). The proceedings are still under way.

On 26th April 2003, M. Néji Marzouk, publisher, member of the Steering Committee of the LTDH, was ordered by security agents to leave the 2003 Book Fair where he had a stand. He was not allowed to attend the Opening Ceremony of the Fair with the Head of State.

Mr. Anouar Kousri, vice-President of LTDH, is still subjected to harassment (surveillance of his house, his office and followed wherever he goes) and his clients are still being subjected to intimidation to try and discourage them from employing his services as a lawyer.

Legal proceedings against Mr. Mokhtar Trifi, and Mr. Slaheddine Jourchi, first vice-President are still under way. They have both been accused of "circulating false information" and "of not respecting a court verdict" in March 2001 and December 2000 respectively.

The appeal of Mr. Khémaïs Ksila, Secretary General and obliged to stay in exile, sentenced in absentia to 10 years prison and a fine of 10,000 dinars following accusation under ordinary law, is still outstanding.

The CNLT and its members are being targeted

Obstacles to freedom of assembly56

The National Council for Freedoms in Tunisia (CNLT, Conseil national des libertés en Tunisie), has still been legally registered in 2003, despite repeated requests by its members over the last five years.

They still constantly encounter obstacles to their activities. Meetings are more or less systematically banned and the offices in Tunis under constant surveillance. Tunisian police have also intervened on many occasions encircling the premises where meetings or assemblies organised by the CNLT were due to take place, in order to prevent them from taking place. On 24th October 2003, the CNLT tried to organise a press conference to launch the International Campaign for Freedom in Tunisia. Its premises were surrounded by an impressive number of policemen who banned access.

Visiters are also frequently intimidated and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to come to present their case or to bear witness.

Harassment and aggression against Sihem Ben Sedrine57

In April 2003, Mrs. Sihem Ben Sedrine, then spokes-person of the CNLT, was the target of a virulent campaign of defamation and of denigration in the press. She was accused of betraying the Arab cause, whereas she had just returned from mission in Iraq, under US occupation since March.

Early December 2003, her car was completely trashed and vandalised, and on 5th January 2004, Mrs. Ben Sedrine was attacked in the street while making her way home, which is also the HQ of the CNLT. She was knocked to the ground by an unidentified individual who molested her, in the presence of two acolytes, Sihem Ben Sedrine was punched several times and had her lip split and suffered many bumps and bruises. It is believed that this attack was carried out on order of the security services who keep her home under constant surveillance.

Lastly, the proceedings opened in June 2001 against Mrs. Ben Sedrine, for "dissemination of false information likely to cause disturbance of the peace" and "attacking judicial institutions" are still outstanding. Mrs. Ben Sedrine was charged after being interviewed by the Arab television channel Al Mustaqiya, in London, on the question of torture and corruption in Tunisia.

Sentencing of Om Zied58

On 25th September 2003, Mrs. Neziha Rejiba, alias Om Zied, Editor-in-chief of the newspaper Kalima – banned by the Tunisian authorities and Head of communication of the Liaison Committee of the CNLT, was summoned to appear at the Department of CustoMrs. Enquiries, Bureau for Exchange rate crime. She was told that she was being charged with "illegal detention of foreign currency" according to articles 6, 22, 35, 36 and 37 of the Code of Foreign Exchange. She was charged with having handed over the sum of 170 euros to a close acquaintance of a Tunisian political refugee the day after her return from a stay in France.

Om Zied was summoned to appear on 28th October 2003 before the 3rd Criminal Court of first instance in Tunis. On 18th November 2003, during a second hearing, Om Zied received an eight months suspended prison sentence and was fined 1,200 Tunisian dinars.

The Observatory appointed an observer to the two hearings of her trial following which the political nature of the charges became quite clear. In fact, the sum of money brought back by Om Zied had been declared to the Customs. Services. Moreover, the lawyers for the defence referred to article 36 of the enabling acts of the Code of Foreign Exchange of 1977, according to which Tunisian residents who bring back foreign exchange have seven days within which to exchange this money for Tunisian dinars.

The appeal hearing was scheduled for 31st December 2003, but has been postponed until 25th February 2004.

Om Zied is moreover victim of harassment and intimidation on a regular basis in particular on account of the criticism and articles she writes in her newspaper and for her public stance on foreign TV channels. Her home is under constant surveillance by a team of un-uniformed policemen who keep up a barrage of provocation to her sons. Her mail is also opened and sometimes confiscated. Her telephone line is constantly tapped and frequently cut to prevent her from communicating with foreign media.

Harassment of several members of CNLT59

Mr. Abderraouf Ayadi, lawyer and Secretary General of CNLT, is still the victim of constant harassment at his office, his home and during visits elsewhere, and his clients are kept under surveillance. Mr. Nejib Hosni, spokes-person of the CNLT, is also subjected to such pressure, as well as Mr. Hedi Manai and Mr. Said Mechichi, respectively former and current officers of the Jendouba section of CNLT.

The legal proceedings against Mr. Omar Mestiri, former Secretary General of CNLT and Dr. Moncef Marzouki, former spokes-person, are still under way. Mr. Mestiri and Mr. Marzouki were charged in 1999 with "disseminating false information" and "maintaining an unrecognised association".

Mr. M'hamed Ali Bedoui, brother of Dr. Moncef Marzouki, was banned several times from leaving Tunisian territory although he has a "Schengen" visa and a valid passport and has not been the object of any legal proceedings. For several years now, Mr. Bedoui has been subjected to systematic harassment and acts of persecution which have led to his becoming unemployed and being unable to leave Tunisia.

Mr. Abdelkhader Ben Khemis, leading member of CNLT from 2001 to 2003 and founder of the chemistry laboratory in Monastir, has been obliged to give up his functions on account of the recurrent obstacles to his professional activities. His request for his functions to be prolonged was in fact refused when he reached retirement age.

Right to strike by lawyers called to the Bar called into question60

On 8th July 2003, the Court of Appeal of Tunis handed down its verdict in the case involving six lawyers, RCD members (party in government) and the Bar association. According to the verdict, the plaintiffs were entitled to request retroactive cancellation of the strike called by the Bar Association on 2nd February 2002, on the grounds of "illegal strike".

The strike was called to protest against the many irregularities occurring in the trial of Hamma Hamami, leader of the communist workers' party of Tunisia (PCOT) and against acts of violence perpetrated against observers and lawyers on that occasion.

The Observatory appointed an observer to four of the five hearings of the trial, jointly with the International Commission of Lawyers and Avocats Sans Frontières – Belgique. The plaintifs maintained that their "right to work" had been trampled, whereas lawyers close to power who had not wanted to participate in the strike movement had not been prevented from exercising their profession on 7th February 2002.

The verdict on 8th July constitutes a worrisome precedent. The Bar Association is henceforth prevented from calling a strike – a right which exists in the Tunisian Constitution – and lawyers can henceforth be the object of disciplinary action in the event of strike.

This verdict clearly intends to rein in an overly independent Bar Association. With its election methods, commitment to defending individual liberties, in particular the fight against police violence, torture and malfunction of the legal system, the Bar association indeed is one of the last bastions against arbitrary decisions in Tunisia.

This verdict comes on top of all the pressure exerted on members of the Bar Association. By way of example, a delegation headed by Mr. Bechir Essid, President of the Bar, and consisting of members of the Bar and the Association of Young Lawyers was prevented on 26th March 2003, from having access to the Iraq Embassy to express its solidarity with the Iraqi people.

On 21st April 2003, an assembly which the Bar Association was to organise in front of the Ministry of Justice and of Human Rights in protest against the refusal of the Ministry to reply to their demands concerning their moral and material situation, was banned by the police which surrounded the Law Courts in Tunis. The lawyers were in a meeting with the President of the Bar Association at the Association's headquarters so that the lawyers were prevented from leaving and going to the place of assembly.

Furthermore, in the night of 10th to 11th May 2003, Mr. Bechir Essid was attacked by members of the police force when he was going to the Lawyers' Club to find out by these premises had been banned for lawyers that very day.

Lastly, on 15th May 2003, Mr. Mohamed Jmour, Secretary General of the Bar Association and Néji Marzouk, member of the LTDH Steering Committee, were searched at the airport when they were leaving the country on the pretext of "instructions received". Mr. Jmour was subsequently searched and subjected to harassment regularly when leaving the country, in particular on 8th December 2003, when he was leaving for Geneva to attend the World Summit on the Information Society.

Refusal to register the Tunisian Association Against Torture and harassment of its President, Radhia Nasraoui

Refusal to register the Tunisian Association Against Torture61

On 26th June 2003, Mrs. Radhia Nasraoui, Chokri Latif, Ali Ben Salem and Ridha Barakati, founding members of the Tunisian Association Against Torture (ALTT, Association de lutte contre la torture en Tunisie), went to the offices of the Governorate of Tunis, to present documents relevant to the setting up of ALTT in order to obtain a receipt of legal registration. They were turned back by security persons at the entrance and were refused access to the relevant bureau.

The ALTT, whose creation was announced on 26th June, the United Nations International Day for Support to Victims of Torture, has as its mandate the promotion of local legislation to protect victims from torture, identify cases and ensure follow-up, and provide support to victims on both medical and legal levels with a view to lodging complaints before national and international bodies.

Harassment and aggression against Radhia Nasraoui62

On 16th April 2003, the offices of Mrs. Radhia Nasraoui were surrounded by about 40 members of the political police. Mr. Béchir Essid and Mr. Mohamed Jmour, who went there were refused access to her offices.

On 13th July 2003, Mrs. Radhia Nasraoui was attacked by un-uniformed policemen on her way to a reception at the Tunisian League of Free Writers, an unrecognised association, on the occasion of the second anniversary of the association. When Mrs. Nasraouiand and Mr. Jalloul Azzouna, writer and President of the League of Free Writers, went through the impressive police barrage designed to prevent the reception from taking place, Mrs. Nasraoui was pushed against a wall then struck violently by policemen. Mr. Azzouna, who tried to defend her was mishandled in the fray. Mrs. Nasraoui, who suffered bruising to her arms was off work sick for six days

By end 2003, there had been no follow-up to the complaint which she had lodged with the police services.

On 15th October 2003, Mrs. Radhia Nasraoui started a hunger strike in protest against the systematic obstacles she encountered in the exercise of her profession as a lawyer and of the constant harassment to which she, her family and her clients were subjected over the years. In fact, the several years her house was under constant surveillance by the police, her telephone tapped, and her mail intercepted. Similarly her clients were subjected to very strong pressure to discourage them from employing her services.

The Observatory appointed two solidarity missions to support Mrs. Radhia Nasraoui, from 7th to 10th November and from 28th to 30th.

On 10th December 2003, Mrs. Radhia Nasraoui announced during a press conference that she was going to stop her hunger strike. Mrs. Nasraoui appeared very weakened having lost 16 kilos.

At end 2003, her home is still under surveillance. Mrs. Nasraoui has nevertheless managed to attract the attention of many representatives of the international community and of the media to the many serious violations of the law by the State and of violations of human rights in Tunisia.

Harassment of Mr Mohamed Nouri63

On 18th July 2003, Mr. Mohamed Nouri, President of the International Association for solidarity with Political Prisoners (AISPP, Association internationale de solidarité avec les prisonniers politiques), found his home surrounded with a massive police barrier through an entire day when he returned from Switzerland.

On 5th December 2003, Mr. Nouri's office was surrounded by policemen to prevent a press conference from taking place. Representatives of civil society, including the Dean of the Bar Association of Tunisia, had made a plea to denounce the dramatic situation of political prisoner in Tunisia, in particular those in Borg el-Amri, who were on the 34th day of their hunger strike.

On 9th December, he was prevented from leaving Tunisian territory to go to Geneva.

Detention and release of Zouhair Yahyaoui64

M. Zouhair Yahyaoui, founder and moderator of the internet site Internet TUNeZINE devoted to fundamental liberties in Tunisia, held in detention since 4th June 2002, was freed on 18th November 2003, thanks to national and international mobilisation.

Mr. Zouhair Yahyaoui was arrested on 4th June 2002 and sentenced on 20th June 2002 by the Court of first instance and then in appeal on 10th July to 2 years prison for "disseminating false information" following a trial at which the Observatory observed and considered to be unjust. The Observatory had informed the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of his case on 27th August 2002.

Mr. Yahyaoui left prison in a extremely weakened physical state on account of the precarious and degrading conditions of his detention. In particular, he lost all his teeth, as well as having lost a lot of weight.

In 2003, Mr. Zouhair Yahyaoui undertook three hunger strikes to protest against his sentence and the conditions of his detention. In addition to the degrading conditions on the physical level (crowded prison cell, extreme heat, no access to medical care, etc.), Mr. Zouhair Yahyaoui was subjected to persecutions, humiliation and punitive measures by the prison warders. These measures were stepped up particularly after the solidarity assembly organised on his behalf in front of the prison at Borj El Amri on 6th February 2003.65 From that time on, food which was sent to him by his family was regularly stolen and what he did get was deliberately dirtied by the prison warders. All reading matter was banned, his correspondence was confiscated and his daily walk banned. Mr. Yahyaoui was also put in the solitary confinement without food for two days following protests by his family about the conditions of visits. These punitive measures were stepped up again just before his release.

On 4th June 2003, his fiancée, Ms. Sophie Piekarec, a French citizen and new moderator of TUNeZINE, was refused entry to Tunisia. Mrs. Sophie Piekarec wanted to visit Zouhair's family, one year to the day after his arrest, she also wanted to meet with the French Ambassador in Tunis.

Harassment of members of RAID66

Mr. Fathi Chamkhi, spokes-person of the Assembly for Alternative International Development (CNLT, Conseil national des libertés en Tunisie) RAID – ATTAC/Tunisie, Rassemblement pour une alternative internationale de développement), was attacked by a guard of the university police on 28th February 2003 in front of the Faculty of Arts of La Manouba (near Tunis), where he teaches. Subsequently, police from the nearby police station subjected him to harassment.

Mr. Sadri Khiari, founding member of CNLT and member of RAID was able to leave Tunisia in May 2003 and now lives abroad. Mr. Khiari had been banned from leaving Tunisia since July 2000, on the grounds that he was the object of legal proceedings, whereas he had never received any information about these legal proceedings.

Refusal of passport and smear campaign against human rights activists67

Government-organised smear campaigns in the so-called independent press (and described as "the gutter press" by defence associations) have continued persecuting Mrs. Khedija Cherif, vice-President of the Tunisian Association of Democrat Women (ATFD, Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates), Mrs. Souhayr Belhassen, vice-President of LTDH, Mrs. Sihem Ben Sedrine, member of CNLT and director of the internet magazine Kalima, Mrs. Bochra Bel Haj Hamida, ex-President of ATFD, Mr. Mokhtar Trifi, President of LTDH, Mr. Omar Mestiri, member of CNLT, Mr. Khémaïs Chammari, ex-vice President of LTDH and member of the Committee for the Respect of Human Rights and Liberties (CRLDHT, Comité pour le respect des droits de l'Homme et Libertés) forced into exile, Kamel Jendoubi, President of the Euro-Mediterranean Network for Human Rights (REMDH, Réseau euro-méditerranéen des droits de l'Homme) and of CRLDHT. Mr. Jendoubi, now living in France, is still deprived of his Tunisian passport.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

55. See Annual Report 2002.

56. See Annual Report 2002.

57. Idem.

58. See Press Release 19th November 2003.

59. See Annual Report 2002.

60. See Press release, 16th May 2003 and 4th and 9th July 2003, (See Reports of international missions of judicial observation, Trial against the Bar, Tunisia, May 2003, Observatory International Commission of Lawyers, Avocats sans frontières).

61. See Urgent Appeal TUN 001/0603/OBS 030.

62. See Urgent Appeal TUN 002/0703/OBS 033 and Press Release, 20th October 2003 and 12th November 2003.

63. See Annual Report 2002.

64. See Press Release of 6th February, 13th June and 18th November 2003 and Urgent Appeal TUN 004/0804/OBS 036.02.

65. See above.

66. See Annual Report 2002.

67. See Annual Report 2002.


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.