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Tunisia: Amnesty calls for end to use of ‘legal arsenal’ against rights activists

March 8, 2023 at 11:47 am

Protesters wave Tunisian flags and shout slogans during a march held under the slogan firmness against the mafia regime in Tunis, Tunisia [Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto via Getty Images]

Amnesty International called on the Tunisian authorities yesterday to stop using its “legal arsenal” against activists who “exercise their basic human rights, specifically their right to express their opinions freely and peacefully,” Anadolu has reported.

“We are concerned about the use of the legal arsenal to silence critical voices, especially Decree No. 54 which represents a threat to freedom of expression and the right to privacy,” said Amnesty.

Presidential decree No. 54 was issued by Kais Saied last September. It covers efforts to combat information and communication crimes, and stipulated penalties of up to five years in prison for anyone who spreads false news.

The international rights organisation also called on the Tunisian authorities to stop using military courts to try political detainees. On 21 January, for example, Seifeddine Makhlouf, leader of the Dignity Coalition Bloc, was arrested after a military court charged him with insulting police officers. Last month, Amnesty said that Saied must stop his “political witch-hunt” immediately. Now it has also called for the authorities to respect “human rights and protect basic freedoms of citizens according to national and international standards.”

READ: Netanyahu’s former adviser talks of return of Arab Spring to Tunisia

Tunisia has been witnessing a campaign of arrests targeting politicians, media personalities, activists, judges and business owners since 11 February. Saied accuses some of them of “conspiring against state security, and standing behind the crises of goods distribution and high prices.”

Amnesty has affirmed that “the acceleration of oppression in Tunisia coincides with the escalation of hate speech and exclusion, especially against immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa who live in Tunisia.”

Saied made a speech on 21 February which has prompted criticism at home and abroad of the inherent “racism” of the president’s words. In response, he said, “Whoever talks about racial discrimination in Tunisia is a party that is looking for sedition.”

In the latest blow to the country, the World Bank announced on Monday a temporary suspension of “partnership negotiations with Tunisia” which are aimed at granting loans totalling $520 million.

Is Tunisia's president Kais Saied like Louis XIV, King of France? - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Is Tunisia’s president Kais Saied like Louis XIV, King of France? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]