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Tunisian anti-terrorism law: A balance between security and freedoms

Tunisia’s 2003 anti-terror legislations declare that they may be used against political opponents but when the country faced a revolution it found itself forced to draft a new law to combat “terrorism”.

A few days ago, the National Constituent Assembly of Tunisia discussed “terrorism” and “money laundering”, under the proposal of a draft by the Tunisian government since the beginning of the year to modify the 2003 law, under which many political figures were tried before the revolution and suffered as a result of.

Human Rights Watch had called, in a letter to the Constituent Assembly a year ago, for the amendment of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2003 which “undermine human rights” as evidenced by the “authorities during the rule of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, where more than 3,000 people were tried under the anti-terrorism law, which came into force in December 2003.”

Human Rights Watch called for the Tunisian authorities “not to use legitimate concerns related to national security to justify the violation of the fundamental rights of defence.”

The last few days have seen disturbances of controversy over some chapters of this law, which is considered by some deputies in the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia as an injunction which they fear may be used in the future to settle political rivalry. However, the Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Transitional Justice Hafiz Bin Salih said: “The enactment of a law to combat terrorism is a political choice and the Terrorism Act must have strict sanctions in view of the seriousness of the issue.”

The Minister of Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou asked for “a separate legal act prohibiting young people travelling to hotbeds of fighting and another chapter giving authority to the National Army to ‘resist terrorism’ in the villages and towns, in any ‘street wars’.”

Ben Jeddou suggested amendments in chapters 66 and 99 of the anti-terrorism draft law relating to the protection and assistance of undercover detectives and the replacement of disciplinary administrative sanctions.

The minister called for a closed session with the House of Representatives due to the sensitivity of the information, claiming terrorists were following them.

The head of Ennahda in the Constituent Assembly Sahbi Atigue told Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed that there were many notes about the law, and problems about some chapters that could “affect the human rights and public and individual freedoms and the acquisition of a fair trial. We fear that this will lead to the abolition of political parties or touch the basic principles of human rights.”

Atigue concluded that his party has “many comments about the various chapters,” and “we of course are for the firm resistance of terrorism, but we are keen at the same time not to affect the human rights and individual freedoms, due to his fight against terrorism, and there must be conditions for a fair trial, because there are chapters that speak of secrecy and professional secrecy which cannot guarantee a fair trial.”

During the sessions of the Constituent Assembly a number of MPs have expressed their concerns about the anti-terrorism law to justify the return of the police state. On this subject, Azad Badi of the Wafaa movement said that there is a need to bring political, social and humanitarian sectors closer, not just the security and judicial sectors.

In this context, the Tunisian President, Moncef Marzouki, said “the law should not be a cover for justifying exceptional measures that violate human rights in Tunisia.”

Al-Arabi al-Jadeed received a copy of the proposal to modify the anti-terror law, it says: “The need to amend the 2003 law has become a necessity following the January 14 revolution, to rid it of some of the general provisions which were exploited by the former regime to establish political trials of opponents.”

According to the fifth chapter, “a terrorist is anyone who publically incites, by whatever means, any terrorist act stipulated in this law, on the basis of its nature or context, or what possible danger or threat it presents.”

A number of experts believe that the issue of “incitement” and “intention” need to be clarified and listed specifically, so as not to remain a concept that can be loosely interpreted politically.

 

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