For Immediate Release
AIUSA media office, 202-544-0200 x302
New Amnesty International Report Exposes Abuses in Tunisia
Human Rights Group Investigates Counter-Terror Practices in Tunisia and Calls for End to Torture, Forcible Return of Tunisian Nationals
WASHINGTON - The Tunisian authorities continue
to commit human rights violations in the name of security and counter-terrorism,
yet other states continue to forcibly return Tunisian nationals at risk
of torture and other abuses or to threaten such returns, Amnesty International
said in a new report today.
"The government portrays Tunisia as a country
where the rule of law prevails, but that is far from the reality," said
Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North
Africa Program. "In practice, the Tunisian authorities continue to carry
out arbitrary arrests and detentions, allow torture and use unfair trials,
all in the name of the fight against terrorism. This is the harsh reality
behind the official rhetoric."
The new report, entitled Tunisia, Continuing
Abuses in the Name of Security, is being issued more than a year after
Amnesty International detailed serious human rights violations and called
for urgent government action to stem abuses and uphold the rule of law.
Little has since changed in Tunisia. Torture remains pervasive in detention
centers, particularly those of the government's State Security Department.
Statements allegedly obtained under torture continue to be accepted
by courts as evidence to convict defendants without taking adequate, if
any, steps to investigate.
"Despite the evidence of ongoing abuses,
the Italian authorities have forcibly returned at least five Tunisians
since June 2008, all of whom were arrested on arrival and detained incommunicado
for periods up to 12 days," said Smart. "Meanwhile, at least 18 other
Tunisians are believed to be at risk of forcible return from Italy
and from other European states."
One of the Tunisians forcibly returned from
abroad, Sami Ben Khemais Essid, was sent back by the Italian authorities
on June 3, 2008 despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights
that he should not be returned at least until the Court had an opportunity
to examine his case. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a military
court in November 2008, and in January 2009 he was removed from prison
by State Security Department officials and taken to the premises of the
Ministry of Interior, where he was kept for two days, interrogated about
other suspects and tortured. Other Tunisians considered terrorism suspects
are now at risk of forcible return from Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Sweden and Switzerland.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called
on European and other governments not to forcibly return to Tunisia individuals
who would be at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations.
These include the 10 Tunisians still held at the United States detention
center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba-which President Obama has said he intends
to close-and one Tunisian believed to be detained at Bagram in Afghanistan.
"In the past year, we have seen further cases
in which suspects have been detained incommunicado beyond the period allowed
by Tunisian law, only to have their arrest dates falsified by security
officials to cover this up," said Smart. "Such abuses are part of a longstanding
pattern which we have repeatedly drawn to the government's attention,
but without effective response."
Recent amendments to the much-criticized anti-terrorism
law of 2003 reported in the Tunisian media softened some of its provisions
but had only cosmetic effect.
"The Tunisian authorities must clean up the
detention system, clamp down against torture and end the impunity accorded
to the State Security Department and its officials," said Smart. "The
government must take concrete steps to end abuses if its human rights rhetoric
is to be matched by reality."
In its report, In the Name of Security:
Routine Abuses in Tunisia, published in June 2008, Amnesty International
described a pattern of human rights violations including arbitrary arrests,
incommunicado detention and enforced disappearances; torture and other
ill-treatment; unfair trials, including before military courts; and abuses
in prisons as well as abuses against Tunisian nationals forcibly returned
The Tunisian government rejected Amnesty International's
report, and denied that allegations of torture are not investigated and
that security officials are allowed to abuse the law with impunity.
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