- Human rights groups are urging Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to "end the daily harassment of former political prisoners." Ex-prisoners are said to be unable to find work and live a normal life.
Hundreds of political activists have been imprisoned in Tunisia since President Ben Ali came to power in 1987, including prisoners of conscience and others sentenced after unfair trials, reflecting the authorities' intolerance of dissent. Many have been released from prison under presidential pardon, typically made on Tunisia's national independence day, 20 March.
"Such releases are generally only conditional, with former prisoners made subject to stifling restrictions, which prevent them from obtaining paid employment or leading normal lives, including intensive surveillance and harassment by security officials," according to a new report by the human rights group Amnesty.
"Prisoners released under presidential pardons should not be subjected to continuing harassment and intimidation, but should be allowed and enabled to resume their normal lives," said Malcolm Smart of the group.
Those who overstep their restrictions or offend the authorities in other ways may be quickly returned to prison.
Sadok Chourou, who spent 18 years in prison before he was conditionally released in November 2008, was re-detained a month later after he gave media interviews talking about his experiences in prison and expressed views about the political situation in Tunisia. His conditional release was revoked so that he has to complete one remaining year of his original sentence and he was given an additional one year prison term. He is now due to be released in October 2010.
"The whole purpose of the pardon is undermined when former prisoners are placed under such oppressive restrictions that they are unable to obtain work or exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association," says Mr Smart. "This harassment of former prisoners must cease."
An Amnesty report, "Freed but Not Free: Tunisia's Former Political Prisoners," highlights the plight of former political prisoners who are subjected to severe restrictions and harassment by the security authorities. These were said to include "oppressive police surveillance, being required to report regularly to the police and repeatedly called in for police questioning, and re-arrest – following their release from prison.
Some were said to have been denied access to medical care. Many other had also been banned from travelling outside Tunisia and are not permitted to move freely within the country.
Abdelkarim Harouni, who was placed under police surveillance following release from prison in November 2007, says it has had a very detrimental effect on his well-being and ability to interact with other people. "This harassment is an attempt to isolate me from society. There is a climate of fear among my family members, the neighbours and my friends, who do not dare to visit us," said Mr Harouni.
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