Global Freedom of Expression

Litigation Developments in Tunisia 2015

Key Details

  • Region
  • Themes
    National Security

Brief View on General Context

Throughout 2015 Tunisia continued to mark progress in the area of human rights, rule of law and transitional justice. Promotion and Protection of Freedom of opinion and expression form a crosscutting national challenge in these great areas. However, the security challenges which culminated in two deadly terrorist attacks in Tunis Capital and Sousse in March and June 2015 respectively caused devastating consequences on the Tunisian vital tourism industry and prompted the new government to opt for significant security measures.

Thus the challenge for the authorities, including mainly the judiciary, were and will continue on how it will respond to these threats and incidents while respecting Tunisia’s international human rights obligations including protection of freedom of opinion and free speech. During his first visit to Tunisia in April 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted: “When the Bardo museum in Tunis was attacked on 18 March, 23 lives were senselessly lost and Tunisia’s young democracy faced a major test. Would it succumb to the temptation to risk its hard-won human rights gain and respond, blinded by rage, with a brash war on terror? Or would it respond with maturity and respect for the victims, a renewed commitment to uphold the values of human rights and justice, and a strong condemnation of the poisonous, revolting rhetoric of the terrorists?”

In fact, following the two attacks, the state of emergency was decreed on 5 July 2015 and ended on 4 October 2015. Two months after, on November 24, a suicide attack on a bus killed 12 presidential guards and wounded 20 others, including four civilians prompted the government to decree once again the state of emergency. The later empowered authorities to ban strikes or demonstrations deemed to threaten public order, and to prohibit gatherings “likely to provoke or sustain disorder.”

Following the declaration of state of emergency, there has been increasing number of alleged acts of offences against journalists by security officials. Certain legislative measures have raised concerns in the aftermath of the attacks. Namely, the law on counter-terrorism  and money laundry which has been /and would be potentially misused to the detriment of freedom of opinion and expression, press freedom , right to access to information…but also freedom of association and peaceful assembly, fair trial etc.

With regards to the socio-economic situation, there has been a growing sense of frustration and social discontent, in particular in the south and southwest of the country, calling for employment, equal economic opportunities, and transparent wealth distribution. During the state of emergency, peaceful demonstrations mainly those aiming to claim employment and solution for the social degrading situation, have been cracked down through an excessive use of force by the police.

The reform of the justice system continued to be slow despite some advancement. This includes mainly the High Constitutional Court (law adopted in July 2015).But the Court is not established yet waiting for the establishment of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary (SCJ). The latter’s law was adopted on 23 March 2016, at a term of a long process that had started in 2014. Under the transitional provisions of the Constitution, the Law on SCJ was to be adopted with 6 months after the legislative elections of October 2014. The promulgation of the law has sparked negative reactions from organizations of the Judges who had repeatedly criticized the various versions of the draft law for lack of recognition of organic independence to the SCJ, arguing that it is unconstitutional.

This said, the adoption of these two important laws are an important step in the creation of the judicial power provided in the constitution.

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Issaaf Ben Khalifa

Human Rights Lawyer, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tunisia