Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Tunisia

Political context

The Democratic Constitutional Assembly (Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique – RCD), the omnipotent presidential party, has largely dominated Tunisian political life since the accession to power of President Ben Ali, on November 7, 1987. The judicial system is largely under the sway of the executive power and magistrates who try to evade the pressures and interference of the latter are almost systematically repressed. In spite of a debate on the judiciary body in the Chamber of Deputies in May 2007, the Government nonetheless denies interference in the legal system, but continues to maintain its control over magistrates in particular by appointing the members of the High Judicial Council and multiplying acts of repression against members of the Tunisian Magistrates Association (Association des magistrats tunisiens – AMT).

The "Law to support international efforts to combat terrorism and money-laundering", adopted in 2003, continued to be used for political purposes on the grounds of concerns over security. In fact, the use of this law gave rise in 2007 to numerous human rights violations, including arrests following participation in meetings or declarations made in opposition newspapers, vigorous searches and threats of reprisals by the political police, incommunicado detentions, etc.

In addition, State agents who are responsible for acts of torture and repression continue to enjoy impunity on the national territory. Torture is almost systematically used against persons arrested in the framework of the fight against terrorism. Acts of ill-treatment of political prisoners are also very regularly reported. For example, around 30 prisoners arrested during armed confrontation at the end of December 2006 – January 2007 between the security forces and groups of young people accused of belonging to Salafist movements, started a hunger strike at the Mornaguia civil prison in October 2007 to denounce the ill-treatment they suffered and to call for the respect of their rights.

Finally, the Tunisian authorities refuse to respond positively to the repeated requests for invitations by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatmentor punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression as well as the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

Because human rights defenders condemn the human rights violations perpetrated by the authorities, they have to cope with the system of general aggression that has been put in place to stifle their activities. All stakeholders of civil society are targets of reprisals: journalists, students, members of opposition political parties, union officials, lawyers, magistrates and representatives of foreign organisations or the press.

Refusal to recognise numerous independent human rights organisations

Most of the 9,132 Tunisian associations registered in 2007 are at the mercy of the authorities. This situation enables the Government to congratulate itself on the vitality of Tunisian civil society. In this environment, the authorities try to discourage human rights defenders by continuing to refuse to grant legal recognition to many associations. Thus, the National Committee for Freedoms in Tunisia (Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie – CNLT), the International Association of Solidarity with Political Prisoners (Association internationale de soutien aux prisonniers politiques – AISPP), the Association for the Fight Against Torture (Association de lutte contre la torture en Tunisie – ALTT), the Centre for the Independence of Justice and Lawyers (Centre pour l'indépendance de la justice et des avocats – CIJA), the Assembly for Alternative International Development (Rassemblement pour une alternative internationale de développement – RAID-Attac Tunisia), the Union of Tunisian Journalists (Syndicat des journalistes Tunisians – SJT) and the Observatory for Freedom of the Press, Publication and Creation in Tunisia (Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création en Tunisie – OLPEC) have been refused registration for several years. However, legal recognition is no guarantee of protection for independent human rights associations.

Attempts to stifle NGOs and police harassment of defenders

Independent NGOs are constantly inspected, their premises regularly "visited", their activists harassed, goods and documents damaged or ruined, their means of communication monitored and often cut off. Activists and their families continue to be subjected to ill treatment, constant harassment, physical attacks, arbitrary arrests, surveillance, attacks and other criminal acts. An arson attack was for instance made on the office of Mr. Ayachi Hammami, Secretary General of the Tunis section of the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights (Ligue Tunisian des droits de l'Homme – LTDH) and Rapporteur on the independence of the judiciary for the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN), on August 31, 2007. Legal proceedings are also frequently used. Thus, LTDH has been prevented from holding its congress since 2005.1 Since this date, the LTDH regional branches have encountered many obstacles to carrying out their activities and branch members have systematically been prevented from entering their offices. Likewise, on June 8, 2007, the police ransacked the CNLT offices, destroying important documents and a large part of its computer equipment. Finally, Mr. Abderraouf Ayadi, a lawyer and former member of the Council of the Bar Association and former CNLT Secretary General, was attacked by an officer of the political police in front of the Tunis court in April 2007, while he was preparing to plead in defence of detainees arrested under the terrorist law.

Restrictions on the freedom of movement of human rights activists

By forbidding human rights defenders to travel abroad, the regime wishes to prevent them from mobilising the international community regarding the human rights situation in Tunisia. This is illustrated by the case of Mr. Mohamed Abbou, a lawyer and CNLT and AISPP member, who was released on July 25, 2007 after 30 months in prison,2 but who was forbidden to take part in a programme on the Al-Jazeera television channel in London in August 2007. Similarly, on August 25, 2007, Mr. Taoufik Mezni, the brother of Mr. Kamel Jendoubi, President of EMHRN and of the Committee for the Respect of

Freedoms and Human Rights in Tunisia (Comité pour le respect des libertés et des droits de l'Homme en Tunisie – CRLDHT), was prevented by the police from entering Tunis-Carthage airport to return to France, his country of residence for more than seven years.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See Observatory Annual Report 2006.

2 Mr. Abbou had been sentenced on March 1, 2005 after publishing articles on conditions of detention in Tunisia, comparing Tunisian jails to the prisons of Abu Ghraib. His trial was marred by numerous irregularities and Mr. Abbou had been tortured while he was held on remand.


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