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.Top of page
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.
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.
Many former political prisoners continued to be under administrative control orders which required them to report frequently to police stations and usually involved oppressive police surveillance and restrictions on the exercise of their civil rights. Some were rearrested or returned to prison for resuming peaceful political activity or publicly criticizing the government; others were denied access to medical care. Most had their freedom of movement restricted within Tunisia and were denied passports. As a result, most were prevented from obtaining paid employment or leading normal lives.
Human rights defenders faced continuing harassment by the authorities, including heavy surveillance and interference with or blocking of internet and telephone communications. They were also prevented from attending meetings or gatherings that focused on human rights. Some were physically assaulted. Most independent human rights organizations continued to be denied official registration. In February, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders called on the Tunisian authorities to cease their physical and psychological “campaign of intimidation” against human rights defenders.
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”.
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.
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.
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.Top of page
At least 22 people were sentenced to death; there were no executions. The government maintained the de facto moratorium on executions in force since 1991. At least 136 prisoners on death row, including four women, were not permitted contact with their families or lawyers.Top of page