Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Tunisia

  We write to you in your capacity to draw your attention to the alarming deterioration in all fields and on all levels in Tunisia, as a result of the Tunisian authorities' repressive policies towards all political dissidents and civil society activists. This oppressive reality is in flagrant contrast with the official discourse, which unscrupulously exploits the slogans of democracy, human rights and civil society whilst adopting a repressive security policy that is unparalleled except in authoritarian states.

  The existence of over 500 prisoners of conscience, who live in extremely severe prison conditions and whose human dignity is systematically undermined, tragically epitomises Tunisia's crisis. Several of these prisoners have died, either under torture, or as a result of wilful medical negligence. These political prisoners were sentenced in 1992 in unjust military trials, which lacked the minimum requirements for a fair and independent trial.

  On the level of political life and civil society, the Tunisian government maintains an iron grip and close police surveillance on the activities of authorised and unauthorised political parties. This has led to a political life void of any credible representation. At the same time, institutions of civil society have been targeted and undermined, and the judiciary has been implicated and used in the government's own battles against its dissidents.

  As for the press and other media, they remain completely under the government's control, thus turning into propaganda tools for the head of state. All spheres of independent public expression—including radio, TV and press—have been restricted. The internet itself is under strict surveillance, either through monopoly of service providers by the President's relatives and close allies, or through banning particular websites and restricting free access to independent news sources. This is in addition to the widespread state of corruption and nepotism in higher government levels. The President's relatives and close allies are systematically looting the country's resources and interfering in all aspects of the economy, driving thousands of Tunisians to emigrate to Europe.

  The Tunisian government is in breach of international accords and conventions it had ratified, and is in breach of the second article of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership agreement, which stresses the protection of liberties and human rights. By all legal, political or ethical standards, the Tunisian government is unfit to host the international information summit, set to be held there in mid November and due to be attended by heads of state, kings, and prominent politicians and officials.

  These same causes have prompted a number of representatives of political parties and civil society institutions to embark on a hunger strike on 18 October, following the spread of strikes throughout Tunisian prisons for over a month. They demand the release of political prisoners, an end to their long suffering, the guaranteeing of the freedom of political and associational activities, and the lifting of all restrictions on the media.

  I have no doubt that you are fully aware of the bleak situation in Tunisia and that you will support reform and democratic progress in the country, in defence of the universal values of freedom and human rights.

Ali Ben Arfa

Campaign for Human Rights in Tunisia

14 November 2005

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