REPUBLIC OF TUNISIA: Sweeping crackdown signals abuse of emergency measures

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10 Dec 2015
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Fight Against Terrorism and Human Rights

Security forces have carried out scores of arrests and detentions in the wake of last week’s suicide attack in central Tunis, in a troubling sign that the authorities are reverting to repressive and abusive measures, said Amnesty International.

The organization spoke to residents who suffered a series of night time raids by security forces in the La Goulette district of Tunis, threatening residents and arresting dozens of people in the early hours of 27 November.

The Tunisian authorities must protect the population, investigate attacks on civilians, and bring perpetrators to justice. However, they must not trample over human rights by subjecting terrified families to heavy-handed home raids, and conducting mass arbitrary arrests and detentions.

“Tunisians are being asked today to choose between security and rights and freedoms, but they want both; and it is the duty of the state to seek to protect people while upholding human rights for all.  The painful and long experience of abuses under former President Ben Ali has cast a long shadow on the achievements of the last five years, and the current government must be scrupulous in ensuring that there is no return to torture and repression in the name of counter-terrorism.”

At least 1,880 raids have been carried out across the country and at least 155 people arrested on suspicion of belonging to terrorist organizations since the state of emergency was declared on 24 November according to the Ministry of Interior. At least a further 138 people have been placed under house arrest.

In the raids on La Goulette on 27 November dozens of men – a total of between 50 and 70 according to eyewitnesses - were arrested including some sick and elderly residents.

One woman described how a counter-terror unit stormed her home and threatened her family at gunpoint. She told Amnesty International that at 2am she heard a loud bang like a bomb as around 10 armed men wearing balaclavas burst into the house.

“We were terrified and thought that they may be terrorists…They pointed their gun at my husband, and then started searching the house. They also pointed their gun at me and at my son, making him hold his hands up and get down on his knees,” she said.

“The only gains we achieved during the revolution is our individual and collective freedom. This freedom is now being destroyed in the name of terrorism...the constitution has been cast aside to fight terrorism. They brought fear back to the hearts of Tunisians,” another resident said.

Under the new counter-terrorism law adopted in July this year, terrorism suspects can be held incommunicado in pre-charge detention for 15 days without access to a lawyer and the outside world, heightening the risks of torture and other ill-treatment.

“The Tunisian authorities must promptly charge or release all those detained, ensure that all those in custody are treated humanely, are protected from torture, and are given access to lawyers and their families without delay.”

Since the Bardo attack in which more than 20 people were killed in Tunis in March this year, Amnesty International has received reports of torture and other ill-treatment of suspects held in connection with terrorist offences by security forces.

2 December 2015

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