Guide Report on Human Rights Practices Country of Tunisia

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  1. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 – Tunisia
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The capacity of the new prison was reportedly 5, prisoners and designed to remedy serious problems of overcrowding in the 9 Avril prison. Prisoners had previously complained of very poor conditions in 9 Avril, including overcrowding, sanitation problems, and limited access to medical care. A LTDH report on the country's prisons entitled "The Walls of Silence" estimated that there were approximately 26, prisoners in 29 prisons and seven juvenile detention centers. The report described a number of abuses, alleging that torture and humiliating treatment of prisoners were widespread. In an April report, Human Rights Watch HRW described the government practice of holding political prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement.

During a press conference held in Tunis in April , HRW announced that the government promised not to place prisoners in solitary confinement for more than 10 days, the maximum time allowed for punishment according to the law. Shortly thereafter, the government confirmed that it had eliminated long-term solitary confinement. However, HRW reported that the government continued to keep some political prisoners, most of whom were outlawed Islamist party An-Nahdha leaders, in small-group isolation.

According to prisoner and detainee testimony, prison conditions for women were generally better than those for men. Conditions for detainees and convicts were reportedly the same. International and local NGOs reported that political prisoners regularly were moved among jails throughout the country, thereby making it more difficult for their families to deliver food to them and to discourage their supporters or the press from inquiring about them see section 1. The CNLT reported that other inmates were instructed to stay away from political prisoners and were punished severely for making contact with them.

In April the government reportedly approved access for HRW to make prison visits. Following this verbal agreement, however, HRW submitted a formal request for prison access, but despite multiple communications from HRW, by year's end the government had not responded to HRW's request. In June the ICRC began conducting prison and detention center visits, following more than a year of negotiations with the government. The International Committee of the Red Cross ICRC reported that prison authorities had respected their mission and allowed them to conduct visits without obstacle.

According to ICRC the government began to put measures in place to improve conditions, including improved hygienic conditions and access to medical care. The government did not permit media to inspect or monitor prison conditions. The International Association for the Support of Political Prisoners AISPP reported that hundreds of persons were arrested from until present for visiting terrorism-related Web sites and were detained without proper legal procedures or sufficient evidence of commission of a crime see section 1.

According to AI and domestic human rights organizations, scores of people were arrested by police beginning in late December, following exchanges of gun fire between security forces and members of a Salafist armed group that had among its targets foreign embassies and personnel. Families made enquiries about the individuals, but the authorities allegedly have given them no information. AI expressed concern that they may have been held in incommunicado detention at the State Security Department of the Ministry of Interior in Tunis, where they would be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

There were no developments on this caseload at year's end. The Ministry of the Interior controls several law enforcement organizations including: In general law enforcement groups were disciplined, organized, and effective; however, there were episodes involving petty corruption and police brutality.

Law enforcement organizations operated with impunity, and sanctioned by high officials, the police attacked dissidents and oppositionists. The Ministry of Interior's Higher Institute of Internal Security Forces and Customs has oversight of law enforcement officers in the ministries of interior and customs. The organization's stated mission was to reinforce human rights and improve law enforcement; however, no information was available about its operations, and no information was available about any punishment of police and prison guards. The law provides that the police must have a warrant to arrest a suspect, unless the crime committed is a felony or is in progress; however, arbitrary arrests and detentions occurred.

The penal code permits the detention of suspects for up to six days prior to arraignment, during which time the government may hold suspects incommunicado. Arresting officers are required to inform detainees of their rights, immediately inform detainees' families of the arrest, and make a complete record of the times and dates of such notifications, but those rules were sometimes ignored.

Detainees were allowed access to family members when they were not being held incommunicado, although the government did not always facilitate the efforts of family members to identify the whereabouts of their detained relatives. Detainees have the right to know the grounds of their arrest before questioning, and may request a medical examination.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 – Tunisia

They do not have a right to legal representation during the pre-arraignment detention. Attorneys, human rights monitors, and former detainees maintained that authorities illegally extended detainment by falsifying arrest dates. Police reportedly extorted money from families of innocent detainees in exchange for dropping charges against them.

The law permits the release of accused persons on bail, and detainees have the right to be represented by counsel during arraignment. The government provides legal representation for indigents. At arraignment the examining magistrate may decide to release the accused or remand him to pretrial detention. The government denied detaining anyone for political crimes. The lack of public information on prisoners and detainees made it impossible to estimate the number of political detainees.

However, it was likely that the number of those held without charge was low because criminal convictions of dissidents and Islamists were easy to secure under laws prohibiting membership in outlawed organizations and "spreading false information aimed at disturbing of the public order. In cases involving crimes for which the sentence may exceed five years or that involve national security, pretrial detention may last an initial period of six months and may be extended by court order for two additional four-month periods.

For crimes in which the sentence may not exceed five years, the court may extend the initial six-month pretrial detention by an additional three months only. During this pretrial stage, the court conducts an investigation, hears arguments, and accepts evidence and motions from both parties.

Complaints of prolonged pretrial detention were common. Judges and the government exercised their authority to release prisoners or suspend their sentences, often on conditional parole see section 1. On February 26, President Ben Ali released 1, prisoners from prison and granted "conditional freedom" to others. Among those released were 87 members of the banned Islamist party An-Nahdha, including Hamadi Jebali, the former editor of An-Nahdha's now defunct newspaper al-Fajr , as well as other Islamists.

Also among those released were six detainees, known as the Zarzis group, who had been arrested in for allegedly preparing to commit terrorist attacks. International and domestic human rights NGOs, who have long called for the release of political prisoners, had been particularly vocal about Jebali and the Zarzis group. After release Jebali and members of the Zarzis group complained of subsequent government harassment and excessive restrictions on personal movement due to their administrative control status see section 2.

On November 4, President Ben Ali released an unannounced number of prisoners in advance of the November 7 national holiday commemorating the President's accession to power in An-Nahdha later reported on its Web site that 55 of its former members that had been imprisoned in the early s were among those released. Several of those released had been sentenced to life in prison.

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The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, the executive branch and the president strongly influenced judicial procedures, particularly in political cases. The executive branch exercised indirect authority over the judiciary through the appointment, assignment, tenure, and transfer of judges, rendering the system susceptible to pressure.

In addition, the president was head of the Supreme Council of Judges, composed primarily of presidential appointees. The law provides citizens legal recourse to an administrative tribunal to address grievances against government ministries, although government officials rarely respected the tribunal's nonbinding decisions. Throughout the year the government permitted observers from diplomatic missions and foreign journalists to monitor trials.

The government did not permit observers to attend sessions of military tribunals. On May 9, the Tunisian Bar Association led a sit-in at the association's headquarters in Tunis protesting a draft law announced the same day that created a training institute for lawyers. Lawyers alleged that by controlling admission to the Institute, the government would effectively control admittance to the bar.

Although the bar association had previously supported the creation of a training institute to standardize qualifications for becoming a lawyer, bar association leaders complained that the association was not consulted on the new draft law and that the proposed institution would not be independent. Lawyers alleged that police abused several lawyers who participated in the sit-in and related demonstrations outside of court buildings in Tunis see section 1. On May 12, despite the objections of the bar association, the president signed the law.

The civil court system is a four-tiered hierarchy. At the first level, there are 51 district courts, in which a single judge hears each case. At the second level are 24 courts of first instance, which serve as the appellate courts for the district courts, but which also have original jurisdiction for more serious cases. The Court of Cassation or Supreme Court serves as the final court of appeals. The Supreme Court only considers arguments pertaining to points of law. The organization of the criminal court system is similar to that of the civil court system. In most cases the presiding judge or panel of judges dominate a trial, and attorneys have little opportunity to participate substantively.

Military courts fall under the Ministry of Defense.

Tunisia: Landmark Proposals on Gender Bias, Privacy

Military tribunals have the authority to try cases involving military personnel and civilians accused of national security crimes. Defendants may appeal the military tribunal's verdict to the civilian Supreme Court. On April 18, according to newspapers, Slah Mosbah, a well-known singer, was arrested on charges of "attacking the dignity of the army" and physical assault due to an altercation with two military officials following a car accident involving Mosbah's vehicle and a military bus.

Authorities tried Mosbah in April and May in a military tribunal and sentenced him to two years and eight months in prison. Authorities released Mosbah on parole after two months on June There is also an administrative tribunal, which hears administrative cases between citizens and the government. The law extends the same trial procedure rights to all citizens, and it provides for the right to a fair trial; however, according to international and domestic NGOs this did not always occur in practice.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for - Tunisia | U.S. Embassy in Tunisia

Trials in the regular courts of first instance and in the courts of appeal are open to the public. By law the accused has the right to be present at trial, to be represented by counsel, and to question witnesses; however, judges do not always observe these rights in practice. The law permits the trial in absentia of fugitives from the law.

Both the accused and the prosecutor may appeal decisions of the lower courts. The law provides that defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty "following a procedure offering essential defense guarantees. Defendants may request a different judge if they believe the assigned one is not impartial; however, judges are not required to recuse themselves.

Lengthy trial delays remained a problem see section 1. Defendants do not have the right to a speedy trial, nor is there any limit to how much time a case can take. Defense lawyers claimed that judges sometimes refused to let them call witnesses on their clients' behalf or to question key government witnesses. Defense lawyers contended that the courts often failed to grant them adequate notice of trial dates, or to allow them time to prepare their cases.

Some reported that judges restricted access to evidence and court records, and in some cases, required all the lawyers working on a case to examine documents together on a single date in judges' chambers, without allowing them to copy relevant documents. Lawyers and human rights organizations reported that courts routinely failed to investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment and accepted as evidence confessions extracted through torture see section 1.

They noted that the summary nature of court sessions sometimes prevented reasoned deliberation. They also stated that erratic court schedules and procedures were designed to deter observers of political trials. Although family and inheritance law is codified, civil law judges were known to apply Shari'a Islamic law in family cases if the two systems conflicted see section 5.

For example, codified laws provided women with the legal right to custody over minor children; however, judges sometimes refused to grant women permission to leave the country with them, holding that Shari'a appoints the father as the head of the family and the one who must grant children permission to travel. Some families avoided the application of Shari'a inheritance rules by executing sales contracts between parents and children to ensure that daughters received shares of property equal to that of sons.

The government denied that it held any political prisoners, and there was no definitive information regarding the number, if any, of such prisoners. Human rights organizations alleged that the government had arrested and imprisoned more than persons since on charges related to a antiterrorism law, without sufficient evidence that they had committed or planned to commit terrorist acts.

Human rights activists and lawyers alleged that many of these detainees were tortured in Ministry of Interior facilities and were forced to sign confessions. The AISPP claimed that approximately political prisoners remained from the caseload of Islamists arrested in the late s and early s. Very few of the prisoners were convicted for acts of violence. Most of those who were identified by international human rights groups as political prisoners or prisoners of conscience were arrested for violating laws that prohibit membership in illegal organizations and spreading false information aimed at undermining public order.

Many were arrested for disseminating information produced by organizations such as An-Nahdha. Former political prisoners stated their identity papers were marked in a way that resulted in their receiving harsher treatment. He had served 14 years in prison and was released in poor health after a day hunger strike. While a court system existed through which a human rights complaint could be made, the judiciary was not independent and impartial in cases involving human rights violations when the government was involved. Administrative remedies were available through the Office of the Ombudsman at the Presidency and administrative court.

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However, decisions taken by these institutions were not binding and were often ignored by other government departments and agencies. The law prohibits such actions "except in exceptional cases defined by law"; however, the government generally did not respect these prohibitions in practice.

Police sometimes ignored the requirement to have a warrant before conducting searches if authorities considered state security to be involved. Authorities may invoke state security to justify telephone surveillance. According to numerous reports by NGOs, the news media, and diplomatic representatives, the government intercepted faxes and e-mails. The law does not explicitly authorize these activities, but the government stated that the code of criminal procedure implicitly gives investigating magistrates such authority.

Many opposition political activists experienced frequent and sometimes extended interruptions of service to home and business telephones, faxes, and the Internet.

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Human rights activists accused the government of using the postal code, with its broad but undefined prohibition against mail that threatens the public order, to interfere with their correspondence and interrupt the delivery of foreign publications. Security forces routinely monitored the activities, telephone, and Internet exchanges of opposition, Islamist, human rights activists, as well as journalists, and also placed some under surveillance see section 2.

The government barred membership in political parties organized by religion, race, or region of origin. On these grounds, the government considered that members of the Islamist movement An-Nahdha belonged to an illegal organization see section 3. Human rights activists claimed that the government punished family members of Islamist activists for crimes allegedly committed by the activists. Family members were reportedly denied jobs, educational opportunities, business licenses, and the right to travel due to their relatives' activism.

They also alleged that relatives of Islamist activists, in jail or living abroad, were subjected to police surveillance and questioning about their activist relatives. Human rights activists reported that upon release from prison, detainees suspected of An-Nahdha membership were harassed and restricted in their employment. Former An-Nahdha prisoners reported that government officials instructed prospective employers not to hire them or their families. Former political prisoners were not able to obtain a document from the Ministry of Interior stating that they had no criminal records.

Such statements were necessary for employment. Even if they had not been jailed, authorities confiscated the identity cards of some activists and Islamists. An individual must have an identity card to receive healthcare, sign a lease, buy or drive a car, access bank accounts and pensions, and even to join a sports club.

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Police may stop anyone at any time and ask for his or her identity card. If individuals are unable to produce their cards, police may detain them until their identity can be established by a central fingerprint database. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press "exercised within the conditions defined by the law"; however, the government generally did not respect these rights in practice.

It limited press freedom and intimidated journalists, editors, and publishers into practicing self-censorship. Security forces closely monitored press activity. Journalist accreditation for domestic press is obtained from the Ministry of Communication. The journalist must have a university degree and be employed by a newspaper. The journalist's employing newspaper must submit a request for accreditation.

If approved, the journalist received a trainee card for the first year, followed by a professional card. Not all working journalists have accreditation, which provides access to official events. Under the law, print media need not be licensed. In practice, however, print media are rigidly controlled by the authorization to the printer, not the publisher.

Print media must request a copyright patente registration from the Ministry of Interior. The Press Code requires that the printer request the receipt before printing, effectively prohibiting any unlicensed publications. The code also requires the publisher to inform the Ministry of Interior of any change of printer.

Printers and publishers violating these rules are subject to substantial, per copy, personal fines under the Press Code. In a similar way, broadcast media are controlled by the granting or denial of a frequency by the Tunisian Frequencies Agency, which is part of the Ministry of Communications and Technologies.

These licenses, or acceptance of the application, are tightly restricted. The law prohibits citizens from discussing national politics on foreign radio or television channels during the two weeks prior to national elections. Security forces often questioned citizens seen talking with foreign visitors or residents, particularly visiting international human rights monitors and journalists.

The government attempted to prevent private meetings with foreign diplomats and to influence public meetings by surrounding meeting places with scores of plainclothes policemen see section 2. For example, on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, plainclothes policemen lined the street leading to the headquarters of the government offices of Tunisian Radio and Television, blocking a planned demonstration on press freedom.

The government stated that there were foreign publications and newspapers distributed in the country and that 90 percent of the newspapers were "privately owned and editorially independent. All media were subject to significant governmental pressure over subject matter. There were three opposition party newspapers with small circulations and editorial independence from the government.

Nevertheless, two of them, Ettariq El Jadid and Al-Wahda , received government subsidies under a law that provides government financing to papers representing opposition parties with seats in parliament. The third, Al-Mawqif , did not receive the subsidy since its party was not represented in parliament. While the government permitted public criticism in opposition newspapers, it impeded similar criticism in the mainstream press. Individuals and certain groups faced reprisal for statements critical of the government. For example, in April a court found Mohamed Abbou, a lawyer, guilty of publishing statements "likely to disturb the public order" in which he compared the fate of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib to that of citizen prisoners.

He was arrested following the online publication of another article in which he unfavorably compared the country's president to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Mohamed Abbou's wife, Samia Abbou, and family were harassed and subjects of surveillance. In March Mohamed Abbou went on a hunger strike to protest his detention conditions, which he alleged deteriorated following a demonstration by supporters outside the El Kef Prison where he was detained.

On October 16, Samia Abbou went on a one-day hunger strike with other wives of political prisoners to protest their husbands' continued detention. Following the hunger strike, police harassment and surveillance of Samia Abbou and her family increased. On May 27, authorities sentenced opposition political activist Neila Hachicha's husband, Khaled Hachicha, to six months in prison for a zoning violation after Neila Hachicha published critical articles online and in international newspapers and appeared on Al-Jazeera.

Human rights activists alleged that Hachicha's husband's sentence was a result of her activism. On November 16, authorities released Hachicha. On October 21, authorities charged opposition political leader Moncef Marzouki with "threatening to disturb the public order," following appearances on Al-Jazeera earlier in October in which he criticized the government and called for civil disobedience. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of journalists being arrested solely because of their work as journalists; however, some journalists who were active in opposition activities, such as Al-Jazeera correspondent Lotfi Hajji, were detained.

Other journalists were detained and interrogated without being formally arrested. Throughout the year, Abdullah Zouari, a journalist who once worked for Al-Fajr , the weekly newspaper of the An-Nahdha party, remained under administrative control and in internal exile. During the year Zouari undertook a number of hunger strikes to bring attention to his situation. In February authorities released Hamadi Jebali, a former editor of Al-Fajr , after having served most of a 16 year sentence for insurrection and "membership in an illegal organization.

According to RWB, approximately a dozen policemen accosted and beat them, and Ayachi's camera was confiscated. According to RWB and other human rights and press freedom organizations, authorities frequently harassed Boukhdir after he posted articles on the Internet critical of the government.

In November Arabic-language daily newspaper Ash-Shourouq stopped publishing his articles and froze his salary in February. In April and May he was one of two Ash-Shourouq journalists who went on hunger strike in protest of their treatment by Ash-Shourouq management.

Government authorities reportedly refused to give Boukhdir a press card and confiscated his passport. There were no further developments in the case of Christophe Boltanksi, a journalist for the French newspaper Liberation , who was attacked and robbed in November Boltanski had been reporting on demonstrations in support of the Movement of 18 October hunger strikers see section 2.

Following the attack international and local civil society organizations accused the security forces of organizing the assault. The government claimed it had arrested two suspects in the attack, but there was no information on any subsequent trial of the alleged perpetrators at year's end. There was no further information on the alleged assault of Jean Jacques Mathy in November According to international media and NGO reports, plainclothes policemen pulled Mathy, of the Belgian television station RBF, from his car and seized his video camera and cassette.

The camera was subsequently returned without the cassette see section 2. The lifting of depot legal applied to newspapers and magazines but not books. All books and foreign publications continued to be subject to restrictions, as evidenced by the refusal of permission to distribute or print certain books. Book fairs had to deposit a copy of each title, or at least a list of titles, in advance. In a February report, the Tunisia Monitoring Group of the NGO International Exchange on Freedom of Expression provided a list of 21 books or academic works by domestic authors that have been censored in the country from initial publication until present.

On January 18, the GOT seized all of the copies of two domestic newspapers mainstream weekly Akhbar al Joumhouriya and opposition weekly Al Mawqif , reportedly because of their articles on a rumored upcoming rise in bread prices. Press contacts claimed that the government considered the articles provocative.

The government provided no legal justification for the removal of the newspapers. The government also seized and banned distribution of the July 14 issue of Al Mawqif. Press observers claimed that the cause was its reprinting of an editorial by the chief editor of Pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi , threatening not to distribute the newspaper in the country due to press censorship. However, the article was published in a subsequent issue of Al Mawqif.

The law stipulates that the publication, introduction, and circulation of foreign works may be restricted. Authorities restricted the timely purchase of foreign publications that included articles deemed critical of the country or that the government determined could prompt a security threat. Authorities prevented the distribution of the September 19 edition of the International Herald Tribune and Le Figaro due to an editorial by Robert Redeker that claimed Islam incited hatred and violence.

The law authorizes sentences up to five years in prison for offensive statements against the president and up to three years in prison for defamation of constitutional bodies, including the Chamber of Deputies, Chamber of Advisors, constitutional councils, the administration, government members or deputies. In charges for defamation were brought against the editor of Al Mawqif for a article calling for an investigation into the railroad system. The case remained pending at year's end. Directors and owners of existing private media, as well as journalists at the government and ruling party-owned press, practiced a high degree of self-censorship.

Journalists in the mainstream press regularly refrained from investigative reporting on national issues.

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Only the small opposition press reported regularly on controversial national issues. In May three independent members of the board of the Tunisian Journalists Association published a report in the name of the association that reported "rampant violations, including censorship and harassment of journalists. On May 3, the Association of Tunisian Journalists AJT released a report that summarized financial and administrative hardships of journalists, noted that no new newspapers were licensed, and mentioned the near absence of investigative reporting or editorial comment on local issues.

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