Tunisia: Assault of delegates only strengthens resolve to assist human rights defenders

'The Tunisian authorities have completely failed to acknowledge the severity of the assault. We are in the process of lodging a formal complaint with the Office of the Public Prosecutor on behalf of our delegates,' Amnesty International said.

After the assault, Amnesty International tried repeatedly to contact the Foreign Affairs, Interior and Human Rights Ministries by telephone and written communications and received no response. Yesterday, the delegates attended a meeting, scheduled prior to their arrival in Tunis, with Tunisian Human Rights Minister Slaheddine Maaoui, who failed to allay Amnesty International's concerns.

'Almost one week after the event, no investigation into the attack has been opened and no assurances have been given that those people with whom the delegates have been and will be in contact will not face further harassment,' Amnesty International said.

Just before their departure from Tunis the delegates were visited by an employee of the Ministry of Human Rights who returned the computer and scanner seized from them at the time of the assault. However, their documents and some camera films have not been returned.

The assault against the Amnesty International delegates is part of a targeted and relentless campaign of intimidation and harassment by the Tunisian authorities of human rights defenders in the country, aimed at silencing their activities. Amnesty International has repeatedly raised concerns regarding the numerous cases of human rights defenders who are routinely subjected to harassment by the authorities, but no measures have yet been taken to curb the daily attacks against them.

'If the attack on the two Amnesty International delegates is intended as a warning against supporting Tunisian human rights defenders, this has entirely failed. This incident has only heightened our concerns for the human rights movement in Tunisia and we will exert extra vigilance from now on,' Amnesty International said.

Background

The incident occurred when two Amnesty International delegates, Jerome Bellion-Jourdan and Philip Luther, were on an official visit to Tunisia to observe the appeal hearings of prominent human rights defender Dr Moncef Marzouki and trade unionist Lotfi Idoudi. On the second night of their week-long visit, they were stopped in Tunis by traffic police while returning from a meeting with a Tunisian human rights defender. After being forced into an unmarked car in the presence of uniformed police officers, they were driven to a dark street and forcibly pulled out of the car. In this secluded area, one of the delegates was physically assaulted by a plain clothes officer whilst another officer took his bag. Once the officers had forcibly taken the delegates' belongings, including a computer and all their documents, they released them.

In Tunisia, all those engaged in the defence of human rights risk daily harassment, both in their professional and private lives. In mid-August, less than a week after her provisional release from imprisonment, Sihem Ben Sedrine, her family and numerous human rights defenders were attacked by people they recognized to be plain-clothes police agents while they were on their way to a reception to celebrate her recent release from prison. Journalist and current spokesperson of the Conseil National des LibertJs en Tunisie (CNLT) Sihem Ben Sedrine had been arrested on her return to Tunis on 26 June. Freed on 11 August following a vigorous solidarity campaign, she may be brought before the courts at any time for defamation, following remarks she made on 17 June concerning the independence of the judiciary on Al Mustakillah, a private television channel based in London

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