Tunisia: UN concerned about escalating crackdown on political opposition and civil society

القمع في تونس

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has expressed concern over the escalating crackdown in Tunisia against civil society and political opponents of President Kaïs Saïed.

The spokesman for the High Commissioner, Jeremy Lawrence, told reporters in Geneva that at least nine people had reportedly been arrested and some detained-on security and graft charges.

Alkarama learned that among the detainees was Judge Bechir Akremi, about whom Alkarama and the Association of Victims of Torture in Tunisia (AVTT) filed a complaint with the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, to inform her about the arbitrary measures the judge was subjected to, including his arrest, his suspension and the intimidation and reprisals he was subjected to while performing his duties.

Another judge, a lawyer, a prominent businessman, a radio station director and the leader of the Islamist Ennahda party were also arrested.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that more and more prosecutions are being brought by the Tunisian prosecutor's office against alleged opponents of the president, accusing them of "conspiracy against state security", defamation to the head of state or violating the decree-law on the fight against cybercrime.

OHCHR also expressed concern that some detainees accused of criticizing the government have been brought before military courts. Lawrence called on "the authorities to immediately cease the practice of trying civilians before military courts." He added that since July 2021, the authorities have also taken a series of measures that have undermined the independence of the judiciary, including the dissolution of the Supreme Judicial Council and the dismissal of 57 judges.

Alkarama’s action

In its recently published 2022 annual report, Alkarama highlighted the deteriorating human rights situation in Tunisia and expressed its main concerns.

These concerns were also noted in the shadow report submitted by Alkarama to the Human Rights Council in the context of Tunisia's last universal periodic review.

The political crisis in the country has worsened since 25 July 2021, when President Kaïs Saïed dismissed the Prime Minister, suspended -and dissolved- parliament for 30 days and assumed all executive and legislative functions.

This seizure of power by the executive has led to numerous abuses, including against the judiciary, as well as harassment of journalists.

To legitimize the situation, a constitutional referendum was held in July 2022, followed by parliamentary elections in December 2022, with an unprecedented boycott rate of 90%.

Since then, an increasing number of criminal proceedings have been documented against bloggers or social media users for peacefully expressing dissenting views or criticizing the executive branch. Many have been investigated or charged, and have often been convicted of charges such as defamation, insulting state institutions and "harming" others via communication networks.

In addition, the authorities have used military trials against civilians for publicly criticizing the president, as in the case of journalist and political analyst Salah Attia.

On 17 August 2022, Alkarama and the Association of Victims of Torture in Tunisia filed a complaint on his behalf with the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. On August 16, 2022, the Permanent Military Court in Tunis sentenced him to three months in prison for "undermining state security and army morale."