By Kevin Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
TUNIS, Tunisia – Amnesty International is calling on the international community to communicate the Tunisian authorities to end the human rights violations on the 20th year anniversary of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s rule. During his 20 year tenure, Tunisia has been accused of various human rights violations including arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and curbs on freedom of expression and association. Amnesty International believes Tunisia’s positive economic performance should no longer excuse the country from violating human rights.
Most recently, a Tunisian court jailed a former Guantanamo Bay detainee for three years on terrorism charges. Although Lotfi Lagha, who spent his last five years in the detention center at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba, insisted that he has never been involved in any terrorist activity, the 40-year-old was found guilty. It is also alleged that he was mistreated by the Tunisian authorities while in detention after being sent home. In addition to Lagha, eight detainees who remain at Guantanamo have been convicted in Tunisia of crimes in absentia.
Additionally, and unfortunately for Lahga and many others, discussion of human rights in the media is taboo under Ben Ali government. The government tightly controls the press and broadcasting, and journals are screened by the authorities before publication. And those who undertake coverage of sensitive topics are subject to harassment and intimidation like journalist Slim Boukhdir, whose passport was taken away since 2004.
Moreover, even though Tunisia’s online population has grown dramatically in the past seven years, freedom of expression is nowhere to be found as Internet monitoring is omnipresent. In 2005, Mohammed Abbou was sentenced to three years in jail for a blog he wrote comparing torture in Tunisia to the U.S. abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. Some rights group claim Tunisia’s internet policies “among the most repressive in the world.”
Amnesty International claims the human right situation in Tunisia has significantly deteriorated since the introduction of the 2003 anti-terrorism law. The organization believes the law’s vague definition of terrorism has been used by the Tunisian security forces to perpetuate crimes against humanity.
For more information, please see:
Amnesty International – Human rights briefing for 20th anniversary of President Ben Ali’s rule – 2 November 2007
Bloomberg – Tunisia websurfers learn criticism of leader ‘cannot be found’ – 2 November 2007
AllAfrica – Journalist goes on hunger strike after being denied passport – 2 November 2007
Reuters – Tunisia jails ex-Guantanamo prisoner for 3 years – 24 October 2007
BBC News – Country profile: Tunisia – 9 October 2007