Annual Report: Tunisia 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Tunisia 2011

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Head of state: Zine El ‘Abidine Ben ‘Ali
Head of government: Mohamed Ghannouchi
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
Population: 10.4 million
Life expectancy: 74.3 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 24/21 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 78 per cent

The authorities maintained tight restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, and government critics continued to be harassed, threatened and imprisoned. Former political prisoners were also harassed, intimidated and subject to restrictions. Torture and other ill-treatment in police stations and prisons were reported. People prosecuted under the anti-terrorism law were sentenced to long prison terms after unfair trials. Death sentences continued to be imposed, but the government maintained a moratorium on executions.


Article 61bis of the Penal Code was amended in June to make it a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison for anyone to "directly or indirectly, have contacts with agents of a foreign country, foreign institution or organization in order to encourage them to affect the vital interests of Tunisia and its economic security". The amendment was made one month after Tunisian human rights activists met EU officials and parliamentarians in Spain and Belgium to urge the EU to bring pressure on the Tunisian government to uphold its international human rights obligations in the context of negotiations over Tunisia's "advanced status" with the EU. It appeared that the new law was intended to criminalize and deter such lobbying of other states and multilateral institutions in support of human rights in Tunisia.

In June, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its observations on children's rights in Tunisia, recommending the need to amend the Penal Code to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment against children which remained lawful in the home and alternative care settings.

Anti-government protests

Anti-government protests erupted following the self-immolation of 24-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi on 17 December in the town of Sidi Bouzid in a desperate act of protest after a local official prevented him from selling vegetables and allegedly assaulted him. The security forces used excessive force, including live ammunition, to disperse protests that were largely peaceful – at least two people were killed. Many others were injured by live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas or beatings. At the end of the year, the protests were continuing and had spread across the country.

  • Mohamed Ammari and Chaouki Belhoussine El Hadri were shot dead by security forces during a protest on 24 December in Manzel Bouzayane, a small town in Sidi Bouzid province.

Freedom of expression and assembly

The authorities maintained tight control over the media and the internet. Those who openly criticized the government or exposed its human rights violations continued to be harassed, placed under intensive surveillance, unjustly prosecuted, and physically assaulted. Independent human rights organizations faced difficulties in holding public events, renting venues for events, or had their events subjected to a heavy security presence.