Tunisia: New report slams country's record on torture and unfair trials

In a hard-hitting new report published today, Amnesty International has strongly criticised the Tunisian government for failing to curb torture, extended illegal detention and unfair trials.

The report, “In the Name of Security: Routine Abuses in Tunisia”, shows how human rights violations are being committed in connection with the government's security and counter-terrorism policies. It looks at specific cases of torture, including beatings, hoodings, sleep deprivation, the use of electric shocks, insertion of bottles and other implements into the anus, and mock executions. One person was so badly tortured that afterwards he couldn’t recognise his own mother, wife or his lawyers.

Amnesty’s report shows how, in their efforts to prevent the formation of “terrorist cells”, the Tunisian authorities have been responsible for arbitrary arrests and detentions breaching Tunisia’s own laws. People have regularly been held for longer than is legal under Tunisia’s “garde a vue” detention laws - with arrest records then falsified to disguise this fact. Numerous civilians have been tried before military courts that have produced little evidence against defendants.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“The Tunisian government has repeatedly asserted that it abides by its international human rights obligations, yet this is far from the reality.

It is high time that the authorities stop paying lip service to human rights and take concrete action to end abuses. As a first step, the Tunisian authorities must acknowledge the disturbing allegations documented in this report, commit to investigating them and bring those responsible to justice.”

Amnesty’s report details numerous instances of torture of those held by the Tunisian authorities. For example, Ramzi el Aifi, Ousama Abbadi and Mahdi Ben Elhaj Ali, co-defendants in the “Soliman” case, all reported to their lawyers that they were punched, tied up and kicked by prison guards at Mornaguia prison on 16 October 2007, apparently because they had gone on hunger strike in protest against their conditions of detention.

Abbadi sustained a serious eye injury and a deep, open leg wound and was in a wheelchair, unable to stand, when seen by his lawyer on 20 October. Ramzi el Aifi told his lawyer that he had been tied up with a rope, beaten and that a stick had been inserted into his anus. No investigation into these abuses is known to have been initiated by the Tunisian authorities and those allegedly responsible have not faced justice.

Ramzi el Aifi and Ousama Abbadi were subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment (Abbadi's sentence was reduced to 30 years' imprisonment on appeal), while Mahdi Ben Elhaj Ali was sentenced to 12 years’ (reduced to eight years on appeal). Meanwhile, another “Soliman” case defendant, Mohamed Amine Dhiab, has reported that guards pushed a pen into a recent bullet wound in his back and subjected him to mock executions.

Amnesty’s report shows how many of these abuses have been committed by forces from Tunisia’s Department of State Security, who use torture virtually with impunity. Amnesty insist that by failing to investigate allegations of torture, the Public Prosecutor and his staff as well as judges, who often lack independence, effectively help to cover up instances in which detainees are held incommunicado for prolonged periods in breach of Tunisian law.

Amnesty’s report also points out that a number of Arab and European governments and the US government have returned people they suspected of involvement in terrorism to Tunisia, where they have then suffered arbitrary arrest and detention, torture or other ill-treatment, and blatantly unfair trials.

Amnesty spokesman Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui added:

“Instead of forcibly returning Tunisian nationals who face torture and unfair trials, foreign governments should be pressing the Tunisian government to take concrete steps to promote human rights reform.”

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