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TUNISIA: Human rights defenders, prime targets for repression

'The daily attacks against human rights defenders blatantly violate international human rights obligations ratified by Tunisia,' Amnesty International said. 'Tunisian human rights defenders, who have for a long time been subjected to harassment of all kinds, are today the prime targets of an increasingly relentless campaign aimed at intimidating them and reducing them to silence.'

The suspension of the activities of the Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l'Homme (LTDH), Tunisian Human Rights League, and the closing of their offices at the end of November 2000 marked the beginning of this new campaign. Since then, all meetings of the leadership and members of the LTDH, in Tunis as well as in other towns, have been prevented by the security forces from taking place, and judicial proceedings have been launched against the organisation's president, Mokhtar Trifi, and its first vice-president, Slaheddine Jourchi. In the last few days, Anouar Kousri, a member of the executive committee of the LTDH and president of its Bizerte office, has been kept under surveillance and harassed in a particularly threatening way.

During the last few weeks members of the security forces have assaulted several Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights known for their active work in civil associations. On 13 March Khadija Cherif, the leader of the Association Tunisienne des Femmes Democrates (ATFD), Tunisian Association of Democratic Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, and a member of the Conseil National des Libertes en Tunisie (CNLT), National Council for Liberties in Tunisia, was attacked while leaving a Tunis court by security force agents who took her documents by force. Some days earlier, on 1 March, she had been beaten and insulted opposite the headquarters of the CNLT by security force agents who also assaulted Sihem Ben Sedrine, the CNLT's spokesperson, and prevented the CNLT meeting from taking place.

Shortly before this incident, Naziha Boudhib, a member of the ATFD and of the human rights prize-awarding jury of the Association Tunisienne des Jeunes Avocats (ATJA), Tunisian Association of Young Lawyers, was assaulted on 22 February by plain-clothed agents who confiscated the jury's documents.

'Such practices are in blatant contradiction with the commitments, endlessly repeated by the Tunisian authorities, in support of human rights in general and the rights of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in particular,' Amnesty International added.

In addition, Dr Moncef Marzouki, former president of the LTDH and spokesperson of the CNLT, was again prevented from leaving the country on 10 March, even though he had just been given back his passport. This harassment of Dr Moncef Marzouki is only the most recent in a long line of such acts. Last December he was sentenced to a year in prison because of his human rights activities, and some months before was dismissed from his teaching post at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sousse.

Another typical example of the relentless campaign against civil society activists is that of human rights lawyer Nejib Hosni, who has been in prison since last December. Initially sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment for refusing to obey an unlawful order banning him from exercising his profession as a lawyer, he is currently serving a prison sentence imposed back in 1996 on the basis of the trumped-up charge of forgery and the use of forgeries.

The cases mentioned above are just a few examples among many of a large-scale campaign of repression which continues to expand. The most common methods include constant surveillance and shadowing of human rights defenders and their families - including Children's rights, the cutting of their telephone lines, the confiscation of their mail, the vandalizing of their offices and cars, the surrounding of private and public places by the police to prevent meetings from taking place, the confiscation of passports, and offensive and defamatory attacks against them in the state-controlled media.

Meanwhile, several representatives of international human rights organisations have been expelled from or denied access to Tunisia, including three in the last few weeks.

Amnesty International urgently calls on the Tunisian authorities to:

- immediately cease the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and attacks against them;

- ensure that impartial investigations are carried out into these attacks on human rights defenders and that those responsible are brought to justice;

- guarantee the protection of human rights defenders and civil society activists and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without interference or fear of persecution.

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