GENEVA- The Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties (GCRL) is following with great concern the developments in Tunisia after the exceptional measures taken by President Kais Saied in the country, and expresses its concerns about practices that violate human rights, including arbitrary arrest and prosecution in connection with freedom of opinion and peaceful assembly.
The official statements claimed that human rights would be respected and protected, however, the arrest of two parliamentarians on Friday 30/7/2021 by the security forces, interrogation of others, along with other practices, raises concerns about violating human rights and undermining the fragile democratic transition, following the dissolution of the government, the Parliament’s suspension, and the president’s seizure of powers.
The Tunisian security arrested Maher Zaid, a member of parliament, in connection with a case that has been settled since 2018. Hanan Khamiri, Zaid’s lawyer, confirmed that the security authorities refused to release him despite submitting documents confirming the cessation of searching for him.
A civilian-clothes security force also arrested Yassin al-Ayari, a member of parliament for the independent Amal Movement, from his home on Friday afternoon. His wife, Cyrine Fitouri, stated that about 20 men in plainclothes raided the house and forcibly arrested her husband while his mother was shouting, and asked them not to take pictures on the phone. She stated that the security forces did not present an arrest warrant, and when her husband, MP al-Ayari asked them to specify the security agency to which they belong, they refused to provide any information and forcibly put him in one of the security cars that was standing in front of the house, then took him to an unknown destination.
Al-Ayari had strongly criticized the exceptional measures announced by President Kais Saied on July 25, which stipulate the dismissal of the prime minister, the suspension of parliament, and the lifting of immunity from its members, as well as the president’s assumption of the executive authority and the head of the public prosecution.
The State General Agency for Military Judiciary announced in a statement, reported by local media, that Ayari was held in the civil prison in Tunis, to implement an effective judicial ruling issued against him by the Military Court of Appeal on December 6, 2018.
It also indicated that “this ruling was upheld by a decision of the Court of Cassation, which sentenced al-Ayari to two months for participating in an act aimed at undermining the morale and dignity of the national army,” according to the statement.
it is noteworthy that Al-Ayari has been prosecuted in 3 cases brought against him by the military judiciary since March 2017, and related to “blasphemy (insult) and attacking the military institution.” In November 2018, he was sentenced to 3 months in prison in one of these cases, after being elected as a member of Parliament in partial elections. In 2015, al-Ayari – the son of an army colonel killed in 2011 during the first clashes against terrorist groups in the country – spent more than 4 months in prison after a military court convicted him of defaming the military high command on social media.
The Tunisian security forces also summoned 4 members of the Ennahda party; Among them, a member of the movement’s Shura Council, and two members linked to its leader and Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, allegedly committed acts of violence last Monday during a protest against the decisions of Tunisian President Kais Saied. The judiciary released the four, after interrogating them.
The Council is also following up on reports of the arrest of activists in connection with posts on social media platforms criticizing the temporary measures. These developments come, days after President Kais Saied announced on July 25, 2021, exceptional measures, including the dismissal of Prime Minister Hisham Al-Mashishi, the freezing of parliament, the lifting of immunity from representatives, heading the Public Prosecution, and taking other exceptional measures that he said were necessary to address the political crisis. It has been going on for months in Tunisia.
Despite the Tunisian president’s declaration to guarantee and protect human rights and abide by the constitution, practices on the ground indicate otherwise. A day after these measures were announced, police forces raided Al Jazeera’s headquarters in the capital, Tunis, expelling employees and closing the office, in violation of press freedom.
Other decisions were also issued, including those related to opening investigations and releasing officials from their positions, without specific charges, amid fears that what is happening is closer to a gradual arbitrary political purge.
The Geneva Council also expresses its concern over the statements of the Tunisian President – during his meeting Friday with representatives of the American media – in which he considered that the threat of some political leaders to take to the street is contrary to the constitution and legal procedures, despite his assertion that freedom of expression remains guaranteed, and that there is absolutely no prejudice to freedoms in Tunisia and that he will not turn into a dictator.
It stresses that protection from arbitrary arrest, the right to opinion and expression, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceful assembly are inherent rights guaranteed by law, and recalls that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Tunisia is a party, prohibits states from suspending some human rights, even during a state of emergency including the basic requirements of a fair trial. The Geneva Council calls on President Kais Saied and the authorities to ensure and respect Tunisia’s obligations under international human rights law.