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Tunisia authorities imposing large-scale imprisonment in secret detentions, HRW warns

Tunisian police in Tunis, Tunisia on 19 January 2021 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]
Tunisian police in Tunis, Tunisia on 19 January 2021 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

The Tunisian authorities are conducting large-scale imprisonment of its citizens in secret detentions using the state of emergency laws, revealed Human Rights Watch (HRW) today.

Although the use of "assigned residences," as the measures are called for disguise, have been used for years in the country, their practice has escalated since President Kais Saied seized executive powers for himself in July 2021.

"Assigned residences were already common under former President Beji Caid Essebsi. But abuses under this extrajudicial measure have increased since President Kais Saied granted himself extraordinary powers," the rights group said in a statement.

Highlighting the case of a former interior ministry employee, Fathi Beld and former Justice Minister, Noureddine Bhiri, who were both arrested on 31 January near their homes, HRW urged the authorities to "immediately" end arbitrary detentions "or use the legal, fully transparent route to allow for a judicial challenge".

On 2 January, Bhiri was transferred to the intensive care unit of a hospital in the northern city of Bizerte, after deteriorating health conditions following his hunger strike, a protest against arrest. The Tunisian authorities claim he was under house arrest on suspicion of security problems and corruption.

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According to his wife, who is also Vice-President of the Tunisian Ennahda Movement, before being taken to hospital he was kept in an "abandoned" and "almost empty" building in Bizerte governorate.

"Failure to reveal a person's place of detention is an alarming step toward a lawless state and is in no way justified by the state of emergency that has repeatedly been extended since 2015," said Salsabil Chellali, Tunisia office director at Human Rights Watch.

The Tunisian authorities have increased repressive measures against several critics of the President, who began a five-year presidential term in 2019. They have arbitrarily imposed dozens of assigned residences, so far in homes or in pre-defined areas.

However, HRW warned, in these cases, assigned residence has turned into administrative detention in unidentified locations.

"The exceptional measures granted by the emergency decree are being used abusively and without judicial oversight, raising the spectre of secret detentions," added Chellali.

"These violations undermine the authority of the justice system and further erode the principles of the rule of law."

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