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Tunisia: The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention seized of the cases of Noureddine BHIRI and Fathi BELDI

Fathi BELDI Ancien conseiller du ministre de l’Intérieur

After their urgent appeal to the Special Rapporteur on Torture on 6 January 2022, the Association of Victims of Torture in Tunisia (AVTT), Free Voice, AFD International and Alkarama have also addressed the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) regarding the situation of the former Minister of Justice and MP, Mr. Noureddine BHIRI and former adviser to the Ministry of Interior, Mr. Fathi BELDI. These two citizens are arbitrarily placed under house arrest since their violent arrest on December 31, 2021 by members of the security services.

On July 25, 2021, the Tunisian president, Kaïs Saïed dismissed the head of government, suspended all activities of the Parliament and lifted the immunity of parliamentarians on a false basis of Article 80 of the Constitution. Again, in violation of the Constitution, he announced that he would assume all executive, legislative and judicial powers with the help of a head of government and ministers he would appoint personally.

This was followed by a series of violations of individual and collective freedoms, including arbitrary arrests and illegal house arrests of deputies and senior officials, including judges and politicians. The number of dismissals by simple presidential decision increased and has continued since July 25th 2021, affecting a number of senior administrative and judicial officials, some of whom were placed under house arrest by simple administrative decision.

1. Mr. Noureddine BHIRI, former minister illegally placed under house arrest

On December 31, 2021 at 08:15, Mr. Noureddine BHIRI, was with his wife, Ms. Saida AKREMI, lawyer at the Tunis Bar, in their car to go to their workplace. While they were still near their home, three vehicles belonging to the security services have blocked the road and several people are then out.

One of them went to Ms. Akremi and violently hit his head against the steering wheel while others rushed on Mr. Bhiri to force him out of his vehicle. This was followed by an immediate outpouring of blows after which Mr. Bhiri was thrown to the sidewalk and was again beaten while on the ground. During this time, Ms. Akremi tried, in vain, to inquire with his attackers on the reasons for their actions. The latter replied that they were "carrying out instructions" and snatched her phone and car keys. The members of the security services then returned to their vehicles and took the victim to an unknown destination.

On the same evening of December 31, the Ministry of the Interior simply announced on its website that "two people had been arrested and placed under house arrest" without giving names. This announcement implicitly referred to Mr. Bhiri, whose place of detention was kept secret until January 2, 2022, when his wife learned that he was hospitalized in the resuscitation ward of the Bougatfa hospital in Bizerte (north, Tunisia).

2. Mr. Fathi BELDI, former adviser to the Ministry of the Interior under illegal house arrest

On December 31, 2021, at 10:30 a.m., Mr. Fathi BELDI, was violently arrested by several members of the security services in civilian clothes, in front of his home, while he had just settled in his car and was about to take the road.

Forced out of his vehicle, Mr. Beldi was violently beaten by members of the security services under the gaze of several members of his family. After several minutes of relentlessness, he was taken to an unknown destination on board an armored car type 4x4 accompanied by several other civilian vehicles.

The second house arrest announced by the Ministry of the Interior on the night of December 31 concerned Mr. Beldi. Although the Ministry of the Interior announced a house arrest, the location of Mr. Beldi's detention was not immediately disclosed. It was not until January 4, 2021 that his family was able to visit him at the National Guard center of Al Amri in the wilaya of Menouba. His family does not know, however, if he is still detained in this center or if he was taken there temporarily for the purpose of this visit. 

3. The Working Group referred by Alkarama

The Association of Victims of Torture in Tunisia (AVTT), Free Voice, AFD International and Alkarama addressed the WGAD on the grounds that the house arrest of Messrs Bhiri and Beldi is contrary to domestic legislation and the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Tunisia on 18 March 1969.

Article 9, paragraph 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees everyone the right to personal liberty, and states that no one shall be deprived of his or her liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.

According to the Human Rights Committee's General Comment No. 35, "if, in very exceptional circumstances, an immediate, direct and unavoidable threat is invoked to justify the detention of a person considered to pose such a threat, the burden of proof lies with the State party, which must show that the threat emanates from the individual concerned and that no other measure can be taken, and this burden increases with the duration of the detention”.

Both Mr. Bhiri and Mr. Beldi were violently arrested by members of the security services in civilian clothes and taken to unknown destinations.

On 6 January 2022, the Association of Victims of Torture in Tunisia (AVTT), Free Voice, AFD International and Alkarama had also addressed the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture regarding the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment they were subjected to during their arrest.

It was only on the night of December 31 that the Ministry of the Interior announced on its website "the house arrest of two arrested persons. The decision was announced unofficially in violation of the procedural requirements set out in domestic and international law. The decision only referred to a "preventive measure dictated by the need to preserve national security".

Moreover, Article 49 of the Tunisian Constitution specifies that fundamental freedoms can only be restricted by law and only if the judicial authorities control these limits.

According to the UN Human Rights Committee, all restrictive measures must also comply with the principle of proportionality and "be appropriate to fulfill their protective functions, they must be the least disruptive of the means that could achieve the desired result and they must be proportionate to the interest to be protected”.

Thus, if the aim of the decision of the "chargé de mission of the Ministry of the Interior" is truly to ensure respect for public order and security, it does not explain to what extent the deprivations of libertý of Messrs. Bhiri and Beldi allow to achieve this objective. The decision to detain them is all the more questionable in that the authorities provide no tangible evidence of the existence of serious reasons to believe that their actions constitute a real threat to public security and order.

It would seem, given the lack of motivation for these arbitrary measures of deprivation of liberty, that these detentions actually reflect the desire of the president, Kaïs Saïed, who now concentrates all powers in violation of the Constitution, to silence political opponents, following the example of Mr. Bhiri, who had denounced the dissolution of the Parliament calling this act unconstitutional.

The Association of Victims of Torture in Tunisia (AVTT), Free Voice, AFD International and Alkarama therefore invited the Working Group to note that the deprivation of liberty of Messrs. Bhiri and Beldi is arbitrary and in violation of both domestic legal provisions and articles 9, 12, 19 and 14 of the ICCPR, and to ensure the State party to immediately take the necessary measures to remedy this situation by releasing them without delay.

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