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Press briefing notes on Tunisia

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Liz Throssell

Location: Geneva

Date: 11 January 2022

Developments in Tunisia over the past month have deepened our already serious concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation there.

On the morning of 31 December, men in civilian clothing bundled Noureddine Bhiri, an MP for the Ennahdha party and a former justice minister, into a car outside his home, with no warrant and no explanation given. He was taken to a number of undisclosed places of detention and for several hours his family and lawyer did not know his whereabouts.

He was subsequently put under house arrest and then, in light of pre-existing health conditions, he was transferred to hospital on 2 January, where he remains under guard. Officials have indicated that he is suspected of terrorism-related offences. However, we understand that his lawyers have to date not been formally informed of any charges against him.

A second man was also taken away and detained on the same day and in similar circumstances, with his location unknown until 4 January.

Although the men's families and the UN Human Rights Office in Tunisia have since been able to visit them, these two incidents echo practices not seen since the Ben Ali era and raise serious questions regarding abduction, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention.

We urge the authorities to either promptly release or properly charge these two men in accordance with due process standards for criminal proceedings.

The actions of Tunisia's Internal Security Forces have long been a matter of concern and one which we have repeatedly raised and discussed with the authorities over the past decade.

President Kais Saied's call, after demonstrators were violently dispersed on 1 September, for the Internal Security Forces to change their practices and act in accordance with the law to protect citizens and respect their rights and freedoms, was a positive step. However, public commitments of the authorities to Tunisia's international human rights obligations have still to translate into practice.

As well as the actions of the Internal Security Forces, we are concerned at the stifling of dissent in Tunisia, including through the improper use of counter-terrorism legislation, and the increasing use of military courts to try civilians, which raise serious concerns regarding the equitable, impartial and independent administration of justice.

The President, who on 25 July last year suspended Parliament and assumed all executive functions, has repeatedly vowed to reform the civilian judiciary. Any steps in this area have to be in line with Tunisia's international human rights obligations.

Over the past decade, Tunisia has made tremendous progress towards promoting and realizing human rights, which makes it all the more vital that efforts are made to preserve these gains.

To this end, we urge the Tunisian authorities to continue their dialogue with the UN Human Rights Office and other UN human rights mechanisms to ensure the reforms of the security and justice sectors that are so badly needed are fully compliant with Tunisia's international human rights obligations.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact:

Liz Throssell + 41 22 917 9296 / elizabeth.throssell@un.org or
Rupert Colville + 41 22 917 9767 / rupert.colville@un.org or
Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / ravina.shamdasani@un.org