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Tunisia: Government must end harassment of former political prisoners- New report

‘There’s a climate of fear among my family members, the neighbours and my friends, who do not dare to visit us’ - former prisoner Abdelkarim Harouni

Amnesty International called on Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to end the daily harassment of former political prisoners as the country prepares to celebrate its national independence day on 20 March.

In a new report - Freed but Not Free: Tunisia’s Former Political Prisoners - published today (15 March), Amnesty highlights the plight of former political prisoners who are subjected to severe restrictions and harassment by the Tunisian security authorities following their release from prison. This includes oppressive police surveillance, being repeatedly called in for police questioning, and re-arrest. Some have also been denied access to medical care.

Since President Ben Ali came to power in 1987, hundreds of political activists have been imprisoned in Tunisia, including prisoners of conscience and others sentenced after unfair trials.  Many have been released from prison on previous national days under presidential pardon.

However, releases are generally only conditional, with former prisoners placed under stifling restrictions, preventing them from obtaining paid employment or leading normal lives. Those who overstep their restrictions or offend the authorities in other ways may be quickly returned to prison. Many have also been banned from travelling outside Tunisia or from moving freely within the country.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa director Malcolm Smart said:

“Prisoners released under presidential pardons should not be subjected to continuing harassment and intimidation, but should be allowed and enabled to resume their normal lives.

“The whole purpose of the pardon is undermined when former prisoners are placed under such oppressive restrictions that they are unable to obtain work or exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association. This harassment of former prisoners must cease.”

Sadok Chourou, who was imprisoned for 18 years before he was conditionally released in November 2008, was re-detained a month later after he gave media interviews talking about his prison experiences and Tunisia’s political situation. His conditional release was revoked and he has to complete one remaining year of his original sentence plus an additional one-year prison term. He is now due to be released this October.

Abdelkarim Harouni, who was placed under oppressive police surveillance following release from prison in November 2007, says it has had a very detrimental effect on his well-being and ability to interact with other people:

“This harassment is an attempt to isolate me from society. There’s a climate of fear among my family members, the neighbours and my friends, who do not dare to visit us,” said Mr Harouni.

Meanwhile, another former prisoner, Abdellatif Bouhajila, has not been to obtain his medical files from the hospital where he was treated in prison, and his hospital appointments have been repeatedly cancelled leaving him without the medical treatment he urgently needs for heart and kidney ailments.

Download Freed but Not Free: Tunisia’s Former Political Prisoners (pdf)

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