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Human Rights Watch: Tunisia’s arbitrary repression is expanding, Said’s reassurances are hollow

Amman Today

publish date 2021-09-11 19:15:51

Arbitrary and politically motivated repression has proliferated in Tunisia since July 25, 2021, when President Kais Saied suspended parliament, Human Rights Watch said today. He also lifted parliamentary immunity, dismissed the prime minister, and assumed the position of attorney general.

Three members of parliament have been jailed on freedom of expression charges, and at least 50 Tunisians have been placed under arbitrary house arrest, including former officials, a judge and three MPs. Dozens of other Tunisians have faced arbitrary travel bans in violation of their freedom of movement. On August 23, Saeed extended the exceptional powers he had granted himself indefinitely. He did not reopen parliament and did not appoint a new head of government and claimed that these measures would not endanger the human rights of Tunisians.

“President Saied’s reassurances about human rights seem hollow when he concentrates his power in his own hands, and parliamentarians and other Tunisians suddenly begin to face arbitrary restrictions on their freedom, some of whom are being held in prison,” said Eric Goldstein, Chargé d’Affairs for the Middle East and North Africa.

Since Said’s announcement, civilian and military prosecutors have announced investigations against at least 10 lawmakers, four of whom are in detention. Those under house arrest, by order of appointed interim Interior Minister Said, also include government officials, former officials, parliamentarians, judges, businessmen and former advisers, Imad Ghabri, a spokesman for the Tunis Administrative Court said on September 9. governments. As of September 9, Ghabri said, 10 of them had appealed house arrest procedures to the Tunis Administrative Court.

Stripping lawmakers of immunity also paved the way for authorities to implement a two-month prison sentence imposed by a military court for defamation in 2018 against Yassine Ayari, a parliamentarian, who is in Mornaguia prison. Al-Ayari is also under investigation by the Military Prosecution on charges of “defaming the army.” Human Rights Watch said that the authorities should release him immediately, as he is being punished for exercising his right to speak.

Two other members of Parliament have been detained for more than a month on defamation charges: Jadidi Sbaoui, whom authorities arrested on August 5 based on complaints from the Wali of Zaghouan, whom he accused of defamation and corruption, and Fassal al-Tebbi on August 2, pursuant to an October 2019 decision. A warrant for defamation, slander and incitement to incitement against the Public Prosecutor of the First Instance Court of Jendouba due to Facebook posts and videos. Five others were also charged with insulting or attacking a police officer at Tunis airport during an altercation, and another was arrested for allegedly illegal radio broadcasts.

Lawyer Malik al-Siyahi told Human Rights Watch that on July 30 at least 30 plainclothes officers arrested al-Ayari, a member of parliament from the Political Amal and Action Movement, at his home. He said that Ayari’s lawyers were not able to visit him until after 15 days in Mornaguia prison in Tunis.

A verdict was issued against al-Ayari in 2018 by a military court, even though he is a civilian. In August, the military prosecutor brought new charges under Article 91 of the Military Justice Law, on Facebook posts on July 26, 27 and 28, 2021, for “defaming the army.” The lawyer said that al-Ayari began a hunger strike on September 8 to protest his arrest. Trying a civilian before a military court violates the right to a fair trial and due process guarantees.

Human Rights Watch interviewed two prominent individuals who said they did not know the reason for their house arrest and were not given any official documents.

Chawki Tabib, a lawyer and former head of the Tunisian National Anti-Corruption Authority, a government body, said that police officers from the Hay al-Nasr district of Tunis placed him under house arrest on August 20, without revealing the reason and saying. He said the state of emergency would last until January 19, 2022.

In response to his request to give an official order on his condition, the doctor said that one of the officers “taken out his phone and showed me what he said was a digital copy of the decision. When I asked for the actual document, he said he would send it. But weeks later, I still don’t have it.”

He added, “I don’t know if there is a complaint [قضائية] against me and whether I will face any legal issues.” I have not been called for questioning about anything, and I have not seen a judge on any case yet.”

The authorities have restricted the doctor’s movements by walking in his neighborhood. He said they asked him to inform them of the doctors’ appointments 24 hours in advance and accompanied him during the visit: “The scene was very shameful. They treated me as if I were bin Laden himself.”

The doctor appealed the decision on August 26 to an administrative court and is awaiting verdict.

The officers placed Zuhair Makhlouf, an independent member of parliament, under house arrest while visiting his mother’s home on August 16, without giving reasons. Makhlouf told Human Rights Watch: “I was taken to the Maamoura police station, where an officer asked me to sign a document, but he did not allow me to read it. The officer cited Saeed’s July 25 announcement of the special procedures and appointment of the acting interior minister.”

Makhlouf said that he was taken to a police station in the city of Nabeul, “and there I signed a police report regarding the decision to put me under house arrest. It stipulated not to leave my mother’s house or violate the house arrest order in any way. I asked for a copy of the police report and was told I had to apply to an administrative court, which I did on August 25. They search everyone who comes to visit me, including my sister and my wife.”

Makhlouf said he was not personally informed of the reason for this arrest. His lawyer told him that the pending case of sexual harassment charges from 2019 was not the cause. Makhlouf believes that the reason is “posts on Facebook and TV interviews in which he criticized what Saeed had done, and described his move as a “grave constitutional violation.”

Makhlouf expects to remain under house arrest until the end of the state of emergency, saying: “I am now living in a prison.”

Article 80 of the 2014 constitution, which President Said used on July 25 to justify his extraordinary powers, authorizes the president to take “any necessary measures” in the event of “an imminent threat to the nation, the security and independence of the country.” The president suspended parliament even though Article 80 demands that parliament be in a state of “continuous sitting throughout this period” and prohibits the president from “dissolving it.”

The Constitutional Court established under the 2014 constitution, which has powers to limit the president’s abuse of power, does not exist due to ongoing disputes over its composition. Article 80 empowers the court to review extensions beyond 30 days of exceptional powers to determine whether the conditions invoked to justify them still exist.

A day before President Saied seized extraordinary powers based on Article 80 of the constitution, he extended the state of emergency until January 19, 2022, which has been repeatedly renewed since it was declared in 2015 by former President Beji Caid Essebsi. The emergency decree gives the executive branch broad powers that include banning strikes, demonstrations, and public gatherings, ordering house arrests, and controlling the media.

Human Rights Watch stresses that under international standards, house arrest is a form of detention and requires certain safeguards to be considered lawful, even during a state of emergency. These include ensuring that house arrest is not indefinite, providing a written copy of the decision to the aggrieved person, ensuring that persons subject to such measures can meaningfully challenge it before an impartial body, and ensuring regular judicial review. Each renewal of an arrest warrant must be subject to court approval.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) has stated that defamation should be treated as a civil issue, not a criminal one, and that “imprisonment is never an appropriate punishment.”

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Source : ألدستور

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