Tunisia: Liberation of Al-Behairi and Al-Baladi defended by Alkarama before the UN

البحيري والبلدي

On the evening of Monday, 7 March 2022, and after 67 days of detention, the Tunisian authorities released Mr Noureddine Al-Behairi, Ennahda parliamentarian and former Minister of Justice, as well as Mr Fathi Al-Baladi, former adviser to the Ministry of the Interior. Following their arrests, Alkarama had referred their cases to UN experts.

Al-Behairi spent most of his arbitrary detention in Bizerte hospital without having been charged. His release occurred as a result of the deterioration of his state of health. The authorities’ decision announced late Monday night put an end to the house arrest of Al-Behairi and Al-Baladi, who have been deprived of their liberty since 31 December 2021.

According to the statement of the Ministry of the Interior: “After the implementation of two decisions of house arrest on Friday, 31 December 2021 against two individuals following suspicions about their involvement in a serious threat to public security, following a judicial investigation in the matter that was referred to the court and following, inter alia, the establishment of the Provisional Supreme Judicial Council on 7 March 2022, it was decided on the same date to terminate the house arrest decisions taken against the two persons in question so that the judicial system could continue the necessary investigations and judicial proceedings.”

On 25 July 2021, President Kais Saied dismissed the head of government, suspended all parliamentary activities, and waived the immunity of parliamentarians on the basis of a misinterpretation of Article 80 of the Constitution. Moreover, in violation of the Constitution, he declared that he would assume all executive, legislative and judicial powers with the help of the head of government and ministers he would personally appoint.

 This takeover over power was followed by a series of violations of individual and collective freedoms, including arbitrary arrests and illegal house arrests of MPs and senior officials, including judges and politicians. In addition, several dismissals by presidential decrees have continued since 25 July 2021, affecting a number of senior administrative and judicial officials. Some were placed under house arrest by virtue of a mere administrative decision.

Alkarama’s Advocacy

Meanwhile, Alkarama, the Association of Victims of Torture in Tunisia (AVTT), Free Voice and AFD International sent an urgent appeal to the Special Rapporteur on torture, concerning the cases of Al-Behairi and Al-Baladi. The latter were subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment during their violent arrest by members of the security services on 31 December 2021. The four NGOs also appealed to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), following their arbitrary placement under house arrest.

A Concerning Situation

Mr. Al-Behairi and Mr. Al-Baladi were violently arrested by members of the security services in plain clothes and taken to unknown destinations. The abductions came at a time of growing political tension in Tunisia following repressive measures taken by President Kais Saied. These measures were seen as amounting to a coup affecting the country’s democratic institutions and constitutional legitimacy.  

Thus, on the night of December 31, the Ministry of the Interior had announced on its website that “two arrested persons are assigned to reside”. The decision was announced informally in violation of procedural requirements stipulated in national and international law. Moreover, the decision refers only to a “preventive measure dictated by the need to preserve national security”.

However, article 49 of the Tunisian Constitution stipulates that fundamental freedoms may be restricted only by law, and provided that proceedings are under the control of the judicial authorities.

According to the UN Human Rights Committee, any measure restricting rights and freedoms must strictly respect the principle of proportionality. Thus, such measures must be appropriate to fulfil their preventive functions, they must minimally infringe rights and be limited to their aim, while being proportionate to the public interest to be protected.

Thus, while the purpose of the decision of the Minister of the Interior was alleged to ensure that public order and security are respected, it has not been specified to what extent the deprivation of liberty of the two men would have achieved such an objective.

The decision to deprive them of their liberty sparked outrage, especially given that at no moment had the authorities provided concrete evidence proving that there were serious grounds for suspecting that the two men’s political activities actually constituted a threat to security and public order.

Thus, and in the absence of a legitimate ground justifying their deprivation of liberty, the political nature of those decisions appeared more clearly. Indeed, they can be seen as reflecting President Saïed’s desire, as he now concentrates all powers in violation of the Constitution, to silence all forms of political opposition. This presidential will was all the more evident in the case of Mr. Al-Buhairi since the latter had publicly denounced the dissolution of Parliament, describing it as unconstitutional.