Human rights defender sentenced to year in prison

Following an unfair trial , Moncef Marzouki was sentenced on 30 December 2000 to eight months' imprisonment for 'maintaining an unauthorized association' and four months for 'spreading false information liable to disturb public order'.

The first charge concerns his involvement with the Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), National Council for Liberties in Tunisia, of which he is the spokesman. The CNLT, which was created on 10 December 1998 but refused authorization by the Tunisian authorities, has been very active in the past two years in exposing, and campaigning against, human rights violations in Tunisia.

The second charge relates to a paper he gave at a meeting of human rights defenders in Morocco last October, in which he condemned the situation of human rights and public liberties in Tunisia.

Moncef Marzouki is currently still at liberty pending an appeal to be lodged by his lawyers within 10 days of the verdict. If the verdict is confirmed on appeal, he will be a prisoner of conscience

The trial had been postponed at its initial hearing on 16 December 2000, which was observed by an Amnesty International delegate.

Moncef Marzouki has been the subject of repeated harassment by the authorities in recent months. In July he was arbitrarily dismissed from his job as professor of medicine at Sousse University and in October he was banned from leaving the country.

Background In recent weeks the Tunisian authorities have stepped up their campaign of harassment and intimidation against human rights defenders, and have deployed increased resources to curtail their activities.

Leading human rights lawyer Nejib Hosni is currently serving a 15-day prison sentence imposed following his trial on 18 December 2000. Nejib Hosni, who is also a member of the CNLT, was beaten by the police officers who arrested him. He was sentenced for practising his profession as a lawyer, from which he was banned following his detention on trumped-up charges from 1994 to 1996. During this time Amnesty International considered him to be a prisoner of conscience. The ban was arbitrarily imposed by the authorities without the authorization of the Tunisian Bar Association, the only institution which may decide if a lawyer is to be suspended or disbarred.

On 27 November the authorities effectively closed down Tunisia's main human rights organisation, the Ligue Tunisienne des droits de l'homme (LTDH), Tunisian Human Rights League, taking control of all its files on human rights violations and making it a criminal offence for anyone to carry on LTDH work. A judicial administrator was subsequently appointed to administer the LTDH's affairs until after a trial had taken place to decide its future. At a preliminary session on 25 December, the trial was postponed until 15 January.

On 14 December the European Parliament passed an urgent resolution expressing concern at the increased targeting of human rights defenders in Tunisia and calling for measures to be taken to redress the situation.

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