Tunisia: Violent assault on Mokhtar Yahiaoui, founding member of a new association for the support of political prisoners

Mokhtar Yahiaoui, who was on his way to visit human rights lawyers Saida Akremi and Nourredine Bhiri in their office located in the centre of Tunis, was dragged, as he entered the building, to a narrow nearby street and violently beaten up. The attackers left him with bruises and bleeding at the nose and the mouth. He managed, with difficulty, to find refuge in the lawyers' office. He was still in shock when Amnesty International contacted him yesterday.

'In Tunisia, attacks on human rights defenders by plainclothes or uniformed security agents have become a pattern over many years', Amnesty International said.

'We urge the authorities to ensure that the assault is fully investigated by an independent and impartial body and those responsible are brought to justice,' the organisation added.

The attack took place just one day after International Human Rights Day, when the AISPP published an appeal signed by Mokhtar Yahiaoui calling for the lifting of the prolonged solitary confinement of political prisoners in Tunisian prisons, and for the guarantee of their basic rights.

Mokhtar Yahiaoui, a judge by profession, was dismissed in December 2001 after he had called, in an open letter to President Ben Ali, for the constitutional principle of the independence of the judiciary to be respected.

Both the Tunisian Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and the International Association for the Support of Political Prisoners are de facto unauthorised. Founding members have faced repeated obstructions in trying to establish the associations. In November 2002, for the latter, and in December 2001, for the former, civil servants at the Governorate of Tunis reportedly refused to receive the authorisation request or to give a formal acknowledgement of receipt (recipisse), thus violating some provisions of the Tunisian law on association and obstructing the process leading to the authorisation of the associations.

In Tunisia, human rights defenders continue to be exposed to various forms of harassment and intimidation, including police surveillance and ill-treatment. When they attempt to file a complaint, clerks or police agents often refuse to register it. When a complaint is registered, it is hardly ever followed by an investigation by the competent authorities. Arbitrary measures continue to prevail in a general context of impunity.

'All members of the security forces in Tunisia suspected of having harassed or intimidated human rights defenders should be held accountable for their acts,' Amnesty International said.

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