- In a report on Tunisia released today, Tunisian authorities are urged to stop widespread human rights violations in the country and to "bring their practices into line with Tunisian law and international human rights treaties ratified by the government."
The human rights group Amnesty International today said it is "concerned about the Tunisian authorities' continuous violation of human rights and the Tunisian government's failure to keep to its promises of achieving better human rights standards."
- Even though improved laws provide more guarantees for human rights, security forces continue to act in breach of these laws and international human rights standards, the group added in a statement.
'Tunisia: The cycle of injustice' is the first major report on human rights in Tunisia since 1998 to be released by Amnesty. In it, the group describes how the cycle begins with the arbitrary and illegal detention of opponents or alleged opponents, frequently followed by incommunicado detention for a period which usually exceeds the maximum garde à vue allowed under Tunisian law.
- Detainees are routinely denied medical examination and remain at risk of torture, sometimes for weeks, the report says. "They are not allowed to contact their families and are often not informed about their right to legal counsel. Fundamental standards of international treaties, including the right to a fair trial, are deliberately disregarded. Confessions allegedly obtained under torture are routinely used as evidence in court."
- No confessions or other evidence obtained under torture should be accepted in court, the group states. "The independence of the judiciary from executive intervention or influence should be made absolute, not only in law but also in practice," Amnesty says, adding "all prisoners who were unfairly tried must be allowed a fair retrial."
Human rights organisations and defenders including lawyers, doctors and journalists are shown to face measures of intimidation and harassment. Files of defendants had been confiscated from lawyers or tampered with. "Lawyers should be free from improper interference in the exercise of their professional duties, including access to their clients. They must not be, in any way, harassed or intimidated," the group said.
The "cycle of injustice" was said to continue in prisons, where diseases run rife in overcrowded cells. Political prisoners in particular were "frequently tortured or ill-treated and suffer from discrimination."
Many prisoners had been kept in prolonged solitary confinement for years. "They are denied adequate medical care, education or work and often held in prisons located far from their families, making visits difficult for their relatives. Those prisoners count among them some 103 prisoners who were unfairly sentenced more than ten years ago after the 1992 mass trials of Bouchoucha and Bab Saadoun," according to the report.
Amnesty demanded Tunisian authorities must "put an end to forced and prolonged solitary confinement which might amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or indeed torture." The group also said "those responsible for torture and abuses must be brought to justice so that this cycle of injustice will come to an end. All deaths in custody and allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated and their findings made public."
The group further held the 2001 law on prison administration in addition to other measures announced earlier this year were positive steps. "However, the rights of all prisoners, without exception, still need to be protected in practice."
Abdel-Majid Ben Tahar was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in jail in December 1993 for belonging to Ennahda (Renaissance), an unauthorised political party. He was conditionally released from prison in April 2002 with a brain tumour after complaining for a year from severe headaches before being allowed a medical examination.
- The police would come several times a week to my house in the weeks that followed my release, 42-year-old Ben Tahar had told Amnesty. "They would walk into my bedroom and up to my bed to see if I had died."
The "cycle of injustice" further continued after release, the report found. "Former prisoners suffer harassment, arbitrary re-arrest and have their basic rights denied after being released. Hundreds are forced to report regularly to the security forces and are deprived of access to adequate healthcare, resumption of studies or work."
The practice of rounding up former prisoners was also found to be frequent. These former prisoners are routinely accused of breaching the conditions imposed by their conditional release. Yet, they are frequently unaware of what these conditions are.
Amnesty held Tunisian authorities had used "security" for over a decade as a pretext to curtail political and civil rights. A vague definition of "terrorism" in Tunisia's Penal Code was often used to silence those who exercise their right to freedom of expression and who have not used or advocated violence.
In a speech delivered on 10 December 2002 to proclaim his government's achievements since 1987, 15 years after coming to power, President Ben Ali had said that human rights were among the basic values of his government. "However, the gap has been incessantly growing between the principles proclaimed by the authorities and the reality experienced by Tunisian citizens," Amnesty concluded in its statement.
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