Annual Report: Tunisia 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Tunisia 2011

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  • Ali Ben Salem, aged 78, continued to be harassed and intimidated by the authorities because of his human rights work and as a founding member of several human rights organizations, including the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia and the Association against Torture in Tunisia. He also hosts in his home the Bizerte regional office of the Tunisian League for Human Rights. State Security officers continued to be permanently posted in front of his house, and his telephone lines and internet access were cut. He was under constant surveillance and physically prevented from attending meetings on human rights. He continued to be denied a free health care card and a passport and so could not receive the medical treatment that he requires for serious back and heart ailments.
  • Human rights activist and journalist Zouheir Makhlouf was released in February; he had been arrested in October 2009 and sentenced in connection with a documentary film about pollution in the Nabeul industrial area in north-east Tunisia. In April, eight police officers visited him and said he was under arrest. They beat him in front of his wife and children when he asked to see the arrest warrant, then detained him for seven hours at a police station. He had bruises and a broken nose when released. He was again beaten in December by a man in plain clothes believed to be a police officer after he left his home to report on unrest in Sidi Bouzid region.

Counter-terror and security

The authorities continued to arrest, detain and try people on security-related charges, including some who were forcibly returned to Tunisia from other states. According to reports, around 2,000 people have been convicted of offences under the anti-terrorism law since 2003, including many who were tried and sentenced in their absence in trials that often failed to meet international fair trial standards. Defendants alleged that they had been forced to "confess" under torture or other duress while held incommunicado in pre-trial detention, but their "confessions" were accepted as evidence by the courts without any or adequate investigation.

In January, during a visit to Tunisia, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism criticized the Anti-terrorism Law of 2003. He urged the government to amend the law's over-broad definition of "terrorism" and to restrict the law's application so as to exclude those who have been improperly convicted of "terrorism".

  • Seifallah Ben Hassine continued to be held in isolation at Mornaguia Prison near Tunis. He had been held in isolation since 2007, far beyond the 10 days permitted under Tunisian law. He was convicted in 2003 under the Anti-terrorism Law and Military Justice Code, and was a defendant in six separate trials, including four before the Tunis Military Court. His six sentences totalled 68 years in prison to be served consecutively. He was arrested while travelling in Turkey where he says he was held incommunicado for a month and tortured before being forcibly returned to Tunisia.

Women's rights

The authorities continued to portray Tunisia as a state committed to the promotion and protection of women's rights. However, women journalists who criticized the government and women human rights defenders were subject to harassment and denigrating smear campaigns in the state-controlled media.

  • Faten Hamdi, a reporter with Radio Kalima, unauthorized to broadcast in Tunisia, was attacked in February by two plain-clothes police officers in Tunis. The officers tried to force her into their car and hit her in the face, but she managed to get away.

Women judges who were among the ousted leadership of the Association of Tunisian Judges and had called for the independence of the judiciary faced continued harassment.

  • Kalthoum Kennou was transferred from Kairouan to Tozeur against her will instead of being returned to her home town of Tunis. Other judges faced salary cuts without warning and denial of promotion.

In October, the CEDAW Committee, commenting on women's rights in Tunisia, expressed concern about allegations of "arbitrary arrest and harassment" of NGOs and human rights defenders and the "exclusion of autonomous women's organizations" from participation in the policy-making process and from state funding.