Tunisia: Dismantle Repressive Ben-Ali-Era Laws

Recent Political Prosecutions Show Urgency of Reform (available also in french and arabic) – Published on Human Rights Watch HRW, by , DECEMBER 17, 2011. – download the report (full or by chapters): Tunisia’s Repressive Laws.

Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly should urgently revise laws to ensure freedom of speech and the independence of the judiciary, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Legal reform in those two areas is key to safeguarding the human rights of all Tunisians, Human Rights Watch said. 

The 49-page report, “Tunisia’s Repressive Laws: The Reform Agenda,” identifies freedom of speech and independent courts as two of ten priorities for legal reform. The others are freedom of movement, association and assembly, freedom to form political parties, the right of citizens to run for public office and choose candidates, the protection of rights while fighting terrorism, internet freedom, and immunity for the president of the republic – all areas where harsh laws inherited from the presidency of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali remain in effect.

The dictator may have departed, but experience shows that as long as his repressive laws remain on the books, the temptation is there for those who succeed him to apply them when politically expedient,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch … //

… The law on associations that the interim government promulgated by decree on September 24 eases legal requirements for associations to form and eliminates all criminal penalties for activities related to setting up and running associations. The Ben Ali government had used the articles of the old law to refuse permission to scores of independent associations and to imprison thousands of opposition party activists for “membership” in or “providing services” to “unrecognized” associations.

The law on political parties, also promulgated by decree on September 24, eliminated an article stating that apolitical party may not base its principles, activities, and programs on a religion, language, race, sex, or region. The provision had been usedto restrict the basis upon which Tunisians could found parties.

However, the interim authorities left intact many troubling laws, including those that give wide discretion to authorities to prohibit public gatherings and restrict travel by individuals, Human Rights Watch said. It also has made no revisions in the 2003 Counterterrorism Law, used to prosecute more than 1,000 Tunisians under Ben Ali under the law’s excessively broad definition of terrorism and using trial procedures that compromised their right to mount a fair defense.

In addition, the interim government adopted some laws during its 10-month tenure that are harmful to human rights and that the assembly should repeal. On October 22, the eve of elections, the interim government promulgated an amendment to the penal code provisions on torture that contained both positive and negative provisions. It toughened punishments for the crime of torture and broadened the scope of personal responsibility for the crime to include those who ordered, incited, or condoned acts of torture. But the law also introduced a statute of limitation of 15 years for the crime of torture, contrary to international customary law, which provides that gross violations of human rights should not be subject to a statute of limitations.

“Tunisia’s freely elected constituent assembly needs to begin the task of peeling away the layers of repressive laws used to stifle dissent and undermine the judiciary,” Whitson said. (full text).

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