Tunisia's state of emergency must respect rights - HRW

2015-07-08 07:36
Tunisian security forces stand guard near the National Bardo Museum in Tunis in the aftermath of an attack on foreign tourists. (Fethi Belaid, AFP)

Tunisian security forces stand guard near the National Bardo Museum in Tunis in the aftermath of an attack on foreign tourists. (Fethi Belaid, AFP)

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Tunis - The Tunisian state of emergency imposed after the jihadist attack that killed 38 tourists last month must not suppress freedoms gained since the 2011 revolution, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

"Imposing a state of emergency does not give the Tunisian government the right to gut basic rights and freedoms," the New York-based HRW said in a statement.

Eight days after the June 26 gun attack at the tourist resort of Port El Kantaoui north of Sousse, President Beji Caid Essebsi on Saturday decreed a state of emergency for 30 days.

The rampage by 23-year-old student Seifeddine Rezgui killed 30 Britons, three Irish nationals, two Germans, one Belgian, one Portuguese and a Russian, and was claimed by ISIS.

Essebsi said the exceptional measure was being brought in because the attack had left Tunisia facing a "special type of war".

"Tunisia's security challenges may call for a strong response, but not for sacrificing the rights that Tunisians fought hard to guarantee in their post-revolution constitution," HRW's deputy chief for the Middle East and North Africa Eric Goldstein said in the statement.

Kamel Jendoubi, the minister who heads a crisis group set up after the attack, said at a news conference on Tuesday: "When security is targeted and we face armed criminals... the first right is to ensure security and guarantee the right to life".

Jendoubi said the state of emergency "only raises the level of vigilance in the country... it has been put into practice but has never threatened freedom in Tunisia".

The state of emergency grants the security forces exceptional powers.

Among other things, it allows the authorities to bar strike action and public meetings deemed dangerous to public order and to increase controls on the media.

Incommunicado detention

HRW was also among nine NGOs including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders that wrote to parliament on Tuesday warning against "flaws" in a draft "counter-terrorism" bill submitted in March.

The letter said the draft "contains provisions that affect public and individual rights and freedoms".

The NGOs said the law "would allow police to hold suspects in incommunicado detention for up to 15 days with a prosecutor's consent and without bringing the person before a judge.

"During that time suspects would have no access to a lawyer or contact with their family, increasing the risk of mistreatment or torture."

The current state of emergency is not the first to be imposed in Tunisia since the revolution that sparked the Arab Spring.

The measure was also in force from January 14, 2011 - hours after the flight of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali - until March last year.

Read more on:    hrw  |  isis  |  beji caid essebsi  |  tunisia  |  north africa  |  tunisia attack

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