For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Brenda Bowser Soder
O -202/370-3323, C – 301/906-4460

Tunisian Uprising Result of Repressive Government

WASHINGTON - This morning – in remarkable scenes from Tunisia in response to
mounting public protests over economic problems, official corruption,
and the denial of basic political freedoms – President Zine El Abidine
Ben Ali imposed a state of emergency, announced the dissolution of
parliament, dismissed his government and promised new elections within
six months.  This afternoon, he fled the country leaving the army in
charge. The protests that toppled the Ben Ali dictatorship are a logical
result of his failure to respond to the basic needs of its people for
freedom and justice and economic opportunity.

“For nearly 25 years, Ben Ali has run one of the most repressive
states in North Africa, denying basic freedoms of expression, assembly
and association, jailing and forcing in to exile non-violent critics,
undermining the independence of the judiciary and rigging elections to
ensure the dominance of the ruling party,” said Human Rights First’s
Neil Hicks. “The Tunisian government has long ignored calls from
activists within its borders and from the international community to
improve its dismal human rights record. President Ben Ali’s repressive
system was no longer able to hold back the full impact of the problems
confronting the Tunisian people and it is being swept away.”

As early as 1993, Human Rights First (then the Lawyers Committee for
Human Rights) raised concerns about the situation in Tunisia. The group
published an assessment of Ben Ali’s first six years in office: “Promise
Unfulfilled: Human Rights in Tunisia Since 1987.” It concluded:

 “Tunisia has seen the independence of the judiciary undermined
by the encroachment of military courts into civilian matters; freedom of
expression has been severely constrained and freedom of association
tightly reined in; lawyers have been subjected to harassment and
intimidation, and discouraged from representing unpopular clients. 
Thus, safeguards that are the bedrock of any society in which basic
human freedoms are upheld and protected have been undermined…”


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Echoing those same sentiments in remarks in Doha yesterday, Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton noted with respect to Arab leaders that,
“Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full
impact of their countries’ problems for a little while, but not

At this tumultuous time, Human Rights First is calling on the
government authorities remaining in Tunisia to refrain from violence
against unarmed protesters.  It is also notes that, as soon as possible,
Tunisia must set out on a new path towards democratic elections so that
the people can freely choose a government that will represent them, and
will govern in accordance with the rule of law and respect for
international human rights standards. 

Hicks concluded, “The U.S. government must make good on Secretary
Clinton’s pledge, made earlier this week in Doha, ‘to support those who
step up to solve the problems that we and you face,’ and to ‘build real
partnerships with societies that are on the path to long-term stability
and progress.’ That support will be essential to securing a more
peaceful and democratic future for Tunisia.”


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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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