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Tunisia: Parliamentarian convicted by military court

Yassine © Private
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Yassine Ayari, a 40- year-old engineer who opposed ex-President Ben Ali’s rule, was elected member of Parliament in the 2018 partial elections, and then won a seat for his political movement Hope and Work representing Tunisians in France in the 2019 legislative elections.

On 30 July, at least 30 police officers in civilian clothes raided Yassine Ayari's home without showing an arrest warrant and took him to an unknown destination. His brother told Amnesty International that the family later learned that he had been arrested to serve a two-month sentence pronounced three years earlier on 26 June 2018 by the Tunis military court that had never been implemented due to his immunity as a member of parliament. The military court had sentenced him for a Facebook post considered defamatory of the army. In one of his posts, which warranted the new military prosecution following the 25 July presidential announcement suspending the parliament, he wrote that he would "prefer 1000 times to live in an imperfect democracy, rather than one day under the rule of [Roman Emperor] Nero." The military court ordered his arrest after the lifting of immunity of all members of parliament, ordered by President Saied on 25 July, at the same time as the suspension of parliament.
On 24 August, Yassine Ayari's lawyers filed a request for a release on parole, which the military court refused, without providing any justification.

Article 91 of the Code of Military Justice punishes with up to three years in prison anyone who “commits ... outrages against the flag or the army, offenses against the dignity, reputation or morale of the army, or acts to undermine military discipline, obedience and the respect due to superiors, or who criticizes the action of military hierarchy or the military officers, offending their dignity." At least six other parliamentarians are currently facing trial before the military court for an incident on 15 March 2021 at the airport of Tunis where they had an altercation with security officials who had implemented an arbitrary travel ban on a woman, under a procedure known as ‘S17’. The woman’s lawyer was arrested on 2 September by order of the military court and is held in pre-trial detention in the Mornaguia prison for charges of defaming the army.

Prosecutions for defaming the army or other state institutions are incompatible with Tunisia’s obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors implementation of the covenant, issued guidance to states parties on their free speech obligations under Article 19 that emphasized the high value that the ICCPR places upon uninhibited expression “in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures in the political domain and public institutions,” adding that, “State parties should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration."

Allowing the prosecution of a civilian before a military tribunal is a violation of the right to a fair trial and due process guarantees. The Resolution on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Aid in Africa noted that “[t]he purpose of Military Courts is to determining offenses of a pure military nature committed by pure military personnel."

Military courts comprised a key element in the repressive apparatus of the state under the presidencies of Habib Bourguiba, 1957-1987, and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, 1987-2011. Under both presidents, persons were convicted in blatantly unfair trials before military courts for political crimes. While they underwent a partial reform following Tunisia's uprising, military courts are still under the undue control of the executive branch as the President of the republic has exclusive control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors in these courts.

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Tunisia: authorities must come clean over abduction of Algerian activist

Neighbours saw Slimane Bouhafs being forced out of his apartment in Tunis on 25 August © Private

Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian Christian convert and UNHCR-recognised refugee, was apparently abducted in Tunis on 25 August Activist has re-appeared in a court in Algeria where he faces undisclosed charges ‘The Tunisian government shares responsibility for his fate and should come clean about its role in his abduction and return’ - Amna Guellali The Tunisian authorities must conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the forced return to Algeria of Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian activist with UN refugee status in Tunisia who was apparently abducted in Tunis

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Tunisia: unlawful travel plans placed on those critical of presidential power grab

Police officers blocking the road during a demonstration in Tunis in January © 2021 SOPA Images

At least 50 people placed under unlawful travel bans - new research Those subjected to bans include judges, civil servants, businessmen and an MP ‘Even under exceptional circumstances a person should be able to see and challenge the evidence on which a travel ban is based’ - Heba Morayef In the first month since his assumption of exceptional powers, Tunisian president Kais Saied has overseen the widespread use of “unlawful and arbitrary” travel bans. Amnesty International has documented the cases of at least 50 people - including judges, senior state officials and civil servants, businessmen

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Tunisia: fears for human rights after presidential power grab

President Kais Saied’s suspension of parliament and threat to personally oversee prosecutions of parliamentarians is ‘alarming’ Security services’ raid on Al Jazeera’s Tunis office heightens concerns ‘The hard-won freedoms and human rights gains of Tunisia’s 2011 uprising are at risk’ - Heba Morayef Tunisian President Kais Saied should publicly commit to respecting and protecting human rights - including the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly - after he suspended parliament and assumed a range of judicial powers, said Amnesty International today. Concerns that

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Blogger prosecuted for humorous post

Nador Prison Tunisia
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Emna Chargui said that she is a staunch defender of personal freedoms and has been outspoken about freedom of beliefs and conscience, but she only shared this post because she thought the way it described the COVID-19 context in Tunisia was amusing. She said, “I expected that people would get a laugh out of it”. The text she shared is a humorous take on the reactions to COVID19 in Tunisia. It imitates the rhymes and format of a quranic verse. It reads as follows: a play on a Quranic verse in terms of structure, mentioning that the virus came from China and that people need to wash their hands and refrain from buying semolina in reference to the shortage of semolina that Tunisia witnesses during the beginning of the lockdown. 

Emna mentioned that her blogs and social media posts often trigger waves of insults from people who don’t agree with her views but the comments she had received in the aftermath of this social media post were threats that she had never experienced before. She quotes one death threat she received: “here is my name and my picture, I don’t care if I go to jail as long as I kill you.” Another person sent her a message of her picture with her father with a message threatening to kill her father “get a sponge to wipe his blood once I kill him.” Emna has been documenting and sharing screenshots of all the gruesome threats she has been receiving. She doesn’t feel safe and had to change her location several times in the past weeks. She told Amnesty International that she didn’t even feel safe going to her trial whose date and location are publicly known now. 

While Tunisia is known among its neighboring countries for more progressive laws and a constitution that provides a protective framework that grants freedom of expression, religion, and faith, in practice a number of Tunisian laws and fall short on those terms. 

Despite the fact that Emna Chargui’s post does not incite to violence or hatred, she was charged under Article 52 and 53 of the Tunisian press code. Article 52 provides a prison sentence of one to three years and a fine from one to two thousand Dinars (500 USD) to anyone who explicitly calls for hatred between races, religions and inhabitants and uses hostile means or violence or racial discrimination. Article 53 punishes with a fine of one to two thousand dinars everyone who purposefully uses preaching sites for political campaigning and anyone who intentionally infringes on any of the licensed religious rites.

Amnesty International has documented a growing trend of prosecutions of bloggers, journalists and activists using legislation that penalize peaceful speech, notably speech deemed to be offensive or defamatory not only toward individuals but also toward state institutions and speech deemed liable to disturb the public order or morality. The Tunisia's 2014 Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression under Article 31.  Tunisia is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which also guarantees the right to freedom of expression.

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Lawyer on trial at military court

Lawyer on trial at military court

Write for Rights Tunisia
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Najet Laabidi is a defense lawyer in several cases of torture in Tunisia, including the case of “Barakat Al-Sahel”, which relates to the torture of 244 soldiers accused of planning an alleged coup against President Ben Ali in 1991. The complaints filed by the victims in 2011 were against former President Ben Ali, the former Minister of the Interior, the former Head of National Security, and the former Directors of State Security, accused of crimes of abuse of power and torture, resulting in handicaps and death.

Najet was first sentenced to six months imprisonment by the Tunis Court of First Instance for “accusing public officials of crimes related to their duties without providing evidence”, under Article 128 of the Penal Code. The charge was filed by a judge who claimed that Najet Laabidi made unsubstantiated, defamatory statements after she made a statement outside of the military court warning of the persistence of corruption in the judicial system. The video of her speech was uploaded to YouTube and was widely shared on Facebook. She was only informed of this conviction on 24 April 2017. She immediately appealed the initial verdict, but on 10 May 2017 the conviction and appeal were upheld, again in absentia.

Najet Laabidi’s case is one example of a larger pattern of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression in Tunisia.
Amnesty International has documented a number of cases of individuals who were prosecuted based on speech deemed critical of the authorities. The prosecution of persons for expressing criticism to state institutions is incompatible with Tunisia’s obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression, under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and with the provisions of the Tunisian Constitution. Provisions in Tunisian law that allow for criminal prosecutions of people for legitimate speech include articles in Penal Code, the Telecommunication Code, Press Code, the Military Justice Code, and the Anti-Terrorism Law.

Similar cases include those of Parliamentarian and blogger, Yassine Ayari, who was sentenced to 16 days in prison in March 2018 in his absence by military court, for a post on Facebook published on 27 February 2017, in which he mocked the appointment of a senior military commander.

Since 2011, at least ten civilians have been tried before military courts in cases related to the expression of opinions, usually for criticising the army or state officials. In September 2016, a military prosecutor charged Jamel Arfaoui, an independent journalist, with “undermining the reputation of the army”, for an article he wrote on a news website.

Social Media

President of the Republic Kais Said
Twitter: @KaissSaide

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Urgent Action Outcome: Tunisian activist acquitted of all charges

A Tunis court acquitted 18-year-old activist, Maissa al-Oueslati of all charges. She faced up to four years in prison.

Outcome UA: 125/19

Tunisia: attempt to shut down prominent LGBTI organisation condemned

An LGBTI march in Tunis © Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Campaigning gay rights organisation Shams faces hostile court hearing tomorrow At least 115 people arrested last year in relation to perceived sexual orientation or gender identity Article 230 of Tunisia’s penal code criminalises same-sex sexual relations Amnesty International has condemned the Tunisian government’s attempts to shut down a prominent LGBTI organisation for being “contrary” to Tunisian society’s “Arabic and Islamic culture”. Shams, a local association which defends the rights of LGBTI people in Tunisia, is facing a legal challenge to its work tomorrow. The Tunisian authorities

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Tunisia: man jailed for smoking during Ramadan

Protesters in Tunis on Sunday calling for the right to eat and smoke in public during Ramadan © SOFIENNE HAMDAOUI/AFP/Getty Images

Four others in town of Bizerte jailed for eating in public during Ramadan ‘Failing to conform to religious and social customs is not a criminal offence’ - Heba Morayef The Tunisian authorities’ jailing of five people on charges of “public indecency” after smoking a cigarette or eating in public during the month of Ramadan is a clear violation of individual freedoms, said Amnesty International. In the latest incident, a man has been sentenced to a month in jail in the town of Bizerte, northwest of Tunis, for smoking outside a courthouse yesterday. He is the fifth person to be sentenced by the

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Urgent Action: NGO founder on hunger strike after conviction in Tunisia

Former prison officer and NGO founder Walid Zarrouk is on hunger strike in protest against his 24 November prison sentences for "insulting public officials".

UA 283/16 issued 15/12/2016
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