- The lack of an independent judiciary has been singled out as the largest hinder for human rights advances in Tunisia in a new report. Government now "abuses and manipulates" the legal system.
"Tunisia needs a truly independent judiciary to reverse its worsening record on human rights and treatment of prisoners of opinion." This is a key conclusion of the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 20 free expression groups, following a recent mission to the North African country.
The groups were gathered in Beirut yesterday to launch their latest report: "Behind the Façade: How a Politicised Judiciary & Administrative Sanctions Undermine Tunisian Human Rights." The launch came as part of the Arab Free Press Forum hosted by the World Association of Newspapers.
"The report reveals how the legal system in Tunisia can be abused and manipulated by the authorities to silence critical opinion," said Rohan Jayasekera, current chair of the TMG. "Only a truly independent legal system - from courthouse lawyers to supreme court judges - can protect constitutionally guaranteed human rights."
It draws from research and interviews during the TMG's seventh mission to Tunisia, conducted earlier this year. The TMG found that there had been "a significant deterioration of human rights in Tunisia" since the last TMG mission in 2007.
The report records a number of recurring cases of harassment, surveillance, and imprisonment of journalists and human rights activists some of whom have been detained in harsh conditions, physically harassed and dismissed from their jobs. Others have been denied their rights to communicate and move freely. The report culminates with 18 specific recommendations for change.
A potpourri of administrative sanctions used to limit free expression and exert indirect pressure on journalists and human rights defenders are also addressed. These include denying licences to independent and opposition media, the harassment of critical journalists and human rights defenders and the confiscation of publications.
Another chapter analyses "the tactics the Tunisian authorities have employed in an effort to prevent the emergence of an independent judiciary, in spite of its national and international obligations."
"At a time when the Tunisian government is seeking 'advanced status' with the European Union, TMG members urge the government to take serious steps to adhere to international standards of basic human rights, as guaranteed by the Tunisian Constitution," concludes Amadou Kanoute, the team leader for the TMG mission.
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