Tunisia: two years after Kais Saied’s coup d’État, political opponents must be freed!

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Two years ago, an anti-democratic coup by President Kais Saied tipped Tunisia towards dictatorial authoritarianism. FIDH is now demanding the release of all political opponents. It has referred the matter to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right of peaceful assembly and association. The international community must be much firmer with the Tunisian government.

Paris, Tunis, 25 July 2023. FIDH has referred the case of the following eight symbolic Tunisian opposition leaders: Khayam Al Turki, Chaima Issa, Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, Issam Chebbi, FIDH has referred the case Ghazi Chaouachi, Ridha Belhaj, Abdelhamid Al Jelassi and Mohamed Lazhar Alakremi, to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Peaceful Assembly and Association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule who is to ask Tunisian authorities to explain why the rights of assembly and association have been violated in the “plot against State security” case. FIDH urges the Special Rapporteur to demand an end to the criminal investigations being carried out against the above-mentioned individuals and, more generally, to respect dissenting voices and freedom of expression.

The Special Rapporteur has a mandate that allows for the investigation of individual cases using many methods, such as writing reports, requesting visits and, in this case, asking the Tunisian authorities for explanations related to the “conspiracy affair”. Since February 2023, some 20 peaceful members of the Tunisian opposition have been facing serious charges stipulated in the Penal Code and the 2015 anti-terrorism law.

“Accusing political opponents without proof, arresting them, viciously prosecuting them... All this worries and deeply concerns us. The international community must demand the immediate release of all political prisoners in Tunisia. Kais Saied is attacking his opponents, accusing them of plotting against the State because they met together” said Aissa Rahmoune, FIDH Vice President. He went on to refer to the government’s accusations (“plotting against the internal and external security of the State” and “expressing an opinion that sounds like a plot to commit an attack against the internal security of the State”), saying that “these are accusations that are typical of dictatorial regimes. We are witnessing the funeral of political pluralism and all the achievements of Tunisia’s democratic transition”.

The eight opposition leaders had publicly criticised President Kais Saied’s 25 July 2021 coup. They held peaceful meetings and demonstrations in the country’s major cities to demand a return to constitutional legitimacy. They were accused of acts which are at the very heart of political opposition movements in a democracy, and in no way violate Tunisian law.

Interference in the justice system

The submission to the Special Rapporteur reflects FIDH’s concerns: President Saied has interfered with the work of the judiciary without restraint and is tramping on the principles of judicial independence, the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. The President has repeatedly called his opponents “conspirators”, “terrorists”, “traitors to the nation” and “foreign sell-outs”. It was after meeting with his Minister of Justice that the proceedings against eight of his opponents began.

Chaima Issa and Mohamed Lazhar Alakermi were released on parole on Thursday, 13 July 2023. Khayam Al Turki, Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, Abdelhamid Al Jelassi, Issam Chebbi, Ghazi Chaouachi and Ridha Belhaj are still in detention. The charges against them are completely false. Furthermore, Jaouhar Ben Mbarek’s health is concerning, as he fainted on 21 July 2023.

FIDH urges the international community (in particular the member states of the UN Human Rights Council) to publicly denounce the violations committed by the Tunisian authorities, and also demand that the people under investigation be released and that all charges be dropped.

Photos – E.C. From left to right: Abdelhamid Al Jelassi, Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, Chaima Issa, Ghazi Chaouachi, Issam Chebbi, Mohamed Lazhar Alakremi, Khayam Al Turki, Ridha Belhaj.

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