Annual Report 2013
The state of the world's human rights

20 January 2011

Release of political prisoners in Tunisia is a welcome first step

Release of political prisoners in Tunisia is a welcome first step

Amnesty International has welcomed an announcement by Tunisia's caretaker government that it has freed political prisoners detained during the rule of recently ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia's new government was formed after weeks of anti-government protests across the country which resulted in a state of emergency being imposed. President Ben Ali fled the country on 14 January.
Among those released on Wednesday were two Amnesty International prisoners of conscience - journalist Fahem Boukadous and activist Hassan Ben Abdallah.
"It is a significant and positive step that these prisoners have been released. Release should now be followed by reparations to these individuals," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.

However Amnesty International has received information that not all political prisoners were released as initially announced.

Political prisoners Ali Hirabi, Ali Ben Farhat, and Hachemi Ben Taleb, linked to Ennahda, the banned Islamist organization, are still to be released despite promises.

Amnesty International also called on the Tunisian authorities to review all sentences for those convicted under the the controversial and much-criticized 2003 Anti-Terrorism Law.

The law has a broad and vague definition of terrorism which in practice has been used to crack down on anyone perceived as a security threat. The organization is concerned that many may be prisoners of conscience, detained solely for their peacefully-held beliefs.
"The Tunisian authorities now need to show that they are really serious about ending the culture of human rights abuses that has existed for over two decades, and begin to rein in the security apparatus that has harassed and oppressed ordinary Tunisians for so long.
"They can start by immediately abolishing the oppressive measures against former political prisoners, who are routinely subjected to aggressive police surveillance."
Former political prisoners are also denied access to medical care, face  restrictions on their movement and can be rearrested and re-imprisoned for no other reason other than exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly or movement.

Both journalist Fahem Boukadous and activist Hassan Ben Abdallah had been held since their arrests in relation to their involvement in protests in the Gafsa region in 2008. They were convicted after unfair trials and sentenced to four-year prison sentences.
They were charged with "belonging to a criminal association" and "taking part in a group established to prepare or commit an attack against people or property". Fahem Boukadous was also charged with "spreading information liable to disrupt public order", for his work to document the protests for a private TV channel.
After his release Fahem Boukadous, who was also imprisoned between 1999 and 2001, said: "I would like to thank all the members of Amnesty International who campaigned for my release. I joined Amnesty International not only because of my convictions but also because it stood with me during my trial."

Protests have persisted in Tunisia since mid-December following the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old unemployed university graduate, who set himself on fire in the town of Sidi Bouzid when police confiscated his fruit and vegetable cart, taking away his only source of income.

His suicide sparked protests among Tunisians, including trade unionists, students, human rights activists and lawyers, who took to the streets demanding jobs, better living conditions and the end of corruption.

Read More

Tunisian government urged to respect rights amid fresh protests (News, 17 January 2011)
Tunisia: Licence to “shoot on sight” must be rescinded
(News, 14 January 2011)
Tunisians must be allowed to protest peacefully without fear
(News, 7 January 2011)
Tunisia: Ongoing hunger strikes spotlights rights abuses in Tunisia
(Public statement, 28 October 2010)
Tunisia: Jailed Tunisian journalist's health at risk (Urgent action, 18 October 2010)
Tunisia: Stop denying abuse in the face of evidence and growing concern (Public statement, 13 July 2010)
Tunisia: Independent voices stifled in Tunisia
(Report, 12 July 2010)
Follow Amnesty International's Livewire blogs from Tunisia


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