Tunisia: Human rights defender faces imprisonment

'If the Appeal Court confirms a prison sentence against him, Moncef Marzouki will once again be considered a prisoner of conscience ,' Amnesty International said today.

Moncef Marzouki, a member and former spokesperson of the Conseil National des Libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), National Council for Liberties in Tunisia, and former president of the Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l'Homme (LTDH), Tunisian Human Rights League, was sentenced by the Tunis Court of First Instance on 30 December 2000. After an unfair trial he was given prison terms of eight months 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, for which he was the spokesman last year. The CNLT, which was created on 10 December 1998 but denied authorization by the Tunisian authorities, has been very active in the past two and a half years in exposing, and campaigning against, human rights violations in Tunisia.

The second charge relates to a paper he presented at a meeting of human rights defenders in Morocco in October 2000, in which he condemned the situation of human rights and public liberties in Tunisia.

Following the verdict against him on 30 December 2000, Moncef Marzouki remained at liberty pending an appeal lodged by the prosecution against what they saw as an overly lenient sentence. The appeal hearings opened on 23 June 2001 at the Tunis Appeal Court, before being postponed on two occasions.

Moncef Marzouki has been the subject of repeated harassment by the authorities. In July 2000 he was arbitrarily dismissed from his job as professor of medicine at Sousse University. Moncef Marzouki has been repeatedly banned from leaving the country, in October 2000, in March 2001 and again in July 2001. This ban has prevented him from taking up a position as associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine in Bobigny, France. In the past few years, his house and movements have been under constant surveillance by security forces.

Background

In the last few months the Tunisian authorities have again stepped up their campaign of harassment and intimidation against human rights defenders and have deployed increased resources to curtail their activities.

On 26 June, journalist Sihem Ben Sedrine, current spokesperson of the Conseil National des Libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), was arrested on her return to Tunis. 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.

Less than a week after her release, 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. In Tunisia, all those engaged in the defence of human rights risk daily harassment, both in their professional and private lives.

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