The Tunisian National Committee for the Defense of Freedoms and Democracy, Avocats Sans Frontières, Euromed Rights, and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy filed a joint complaint this week before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of eight Tunisian political prisoners arbitrarily detained under trumped-up charges of “conspiracy against the state.”
The organizations welcome the provisional release of the two detainees Chaima Issa and Lazhar Akermi on the evening of July 13, 2023, and call on Tunisian authorities to immediately drop the charges against them and all Tunisian political prisoners being prosecuted and/or detained for solely having exercised their civil and political rights, and end all practices aimed at restricting the right to political participation and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Tunisia.
The complaint was submitted on behalf of Khayam Al Turki, Chaima Issa, Abdelhamid Al Jelassi, Issam Al Chebbi, Ghazi Al Chaouachi, Ridha Belhaj, Jaouhar Ben M’barek, and Lazher Al Akremi. These eight figures of the political opposition have been in arbitrary detention in the so-called “Conspiracy Against the State” investigation. They were arrested by the Ministry of Interior’s counterterrorism police brigade between February 11 and 25, 2023, under trumped-up charges based on flimsy allegations. They were subsequently charged with extremely serious accusations under articles of the counterterrorism law and the Tunisian penal code including affiliation with a terrorist group, conspiracy against state security, and attempts to overthrow the government. If convicted, they risk heavy sentences that can include the death penalty.
“Our organizations consider the detention of the eight members of political opposition in this case a direct reprisal against them for exercising their fundamental rights, including the right to participate in peaceful political opposition. They criticized the undemocratic and unconstitutional measures implemented by the President since July 2021, which has resulted in their deprivation of liberty and put their lives at risk if convicted.”Wadih Al-Asmar, President of Euromed Rights
In the submission, the organizations demonstrate how the arrest, investigation, and continued detention of the eight political opposition members violate fundamental human rights that Tunisia has committed to respecting under its constitution and under international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“Our organizations have found that Tunisian authorities are in violation of the right to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom to participate in public affairs, freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and the right to a fair trial. Tunisian authorities must respect their commitments under national and international law and stop these patterns of violations.”Mai El-Sadany, Executive Director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy
Furthermore, the rights of the eight individuals in question were violated from the outset when President Kais Saied publicly undermined the principle of presumption of innocence by calling them “terrorists” and accusing them of plotting to attack the state and provoke “social tension.” In addition, the investigation has witnessed shameless interference and pressure from President Saied on the judiciary in particular by declaring on camera that anyone who “would exonerate” them was their “accomplice.” President Said has undermined judicial independence systematically since July 2021, after dissolving the High Judicial Council and arbitrarily dismissing 57 judges; he also publicly demanded the public prosecution to accelerate investigations and prosecution of the defendants in question.
“This is a highly politicized investigation and prosecution. The charges are unfounded, and the objective of the authorities is clearly to silence all critical voices and end political pluralism in the country. This case is part of a wider crackdown on peaceful dissent in Tunisia that aims to stifle all opposition.”Antonio Manganella, Director for the Mediterranean region at Avocats Sans Frontières
“President Kais Saied is leading the country toward authoritarianism. Instead of targeting all independent voices and trying to silence critics, authorities should be working on restoring a democratic rule in the country and fostering a healthy social dialogue with all social and political actors to address the various challenges faced by the country at the moment.”Ayachi Hammami, president of the Tunisian National Committee for the Defense of Freedoms and Democracy
- Comité National pour la Défense de la Liberté et de la Démocratie
- Avocats Sans Frontières
- The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy
- EuroMed Rights