Annual Report: Tunisia 2013

Report
May 29, 2013

Annual Report: Tunisia 2013

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Republic of Tunisia

Head of state Moncef Marzouki

Head of government Hamadi Jebali

The authorities restricted freedom of expression and prosecuted several people using repressive laws enacted under the previous government. There were new reports of torture and other ill-treatment by police, who also used excessive force against demonstrators. Families of people killed and injured during the uprisings that ousted the former president in January 2011 continued to call for justice and reparations. Some former officials were tried and imprisoned. Women continued to face discrimination in both law and practice. Nine people were sentenced to death; no executions were carried out.

Background

The state of emergency imposed in January 2011 was renewed and remained in force throughout 2012.

The coalition government elected in October 2011 for one year remained in office throughout 2012. In October 2012, the government announced that new parliamentary and presidential elections would be held in June and July 2013. The National Constituent Assembly (NCA), tasked with drafting a new constitution, issued an initial draft in August but said that it could not meet its one-year deadline, which was then extended until February 2013. The initial draft was criticized on several human rights grounds, notably in relation to articles concerning the status of women, the right to life and the criminalization of expression deemed offensive to religion.

In August, a draft bill criminalizing acts considered offensive to “religion and the sacred” was submitted to the NCA by the Ennahda Islamist party, the majority party in the ruling coalition. The bill was still under consideration at the end of the year.

The authorities took steps apparently intended to reform the judiciary and promote judicial independence. The Minister of Justice dismissed 82 judges for alleged corruption in May, reinstating nine of them a month later, and in September the Supreme Council of the Judiciary (CSM) transferred, promoted or changed the functions of over 700 judges. However, divisions within the NCA prevented the adoption of a draft bill to replace the CSM with a Temporary Judiciary Council; the draft bill lacked adequate safeguards against the arbitrary dismissal or transfer of judges and would have given the executive authorities significant power over the proposed new judicial body. In September, the Minister of Justice appointed himself head of the CSM, a position previously held by former President Zine El ‘Abidine Ben ‘Ali.

There were continuing public protests and demonstrations by religious groups, people dissatisfied with the pace of reform and harsh living conditions, as well as activists advocating women's rights, media reform and greater freedom of expression. Some of the protests became violent and were met with force – sometimes excessive force – by the police. Nearly 300 protesters and bystanders were reportedly injured during use of excessive force by the police in Siliana, a city south west of Tunis, during demonstrations on 27, 28 and 29 November calling for the departure of the governor of Siliana, economic development of the town and the release of 13 detainees arrested during protests in April 2011.

By contrast, the police were accused of failing to intervene in a timely manner on several occasions when artists, writers and others were violently attacked by groups of religious extremists, mostly alleged Salafists (Sunni Muslims who advocated a return to what they considered to be Islam's fundamental principles). Such attacks were mounted against alleged alcohol sellers as well as art exhibitions and cultural and other events. In September, the US embassy was attacked in relation to an anti-Islamist film posted on the internet.

Dozens of Salafists were reported to have been detained in the aftermath of these attacks. More than 50 of them went on hunger strike to protest against their arrest and detention conditions and two died in custody as a result in November. Most were reported to have ended their hunger strike by the end of the year. In October, after another Salafist was arrested, Salafists were reported to have attacked two police stations in Manouba, resulting in two deaths and injuries to several police officers.