| 18 April 2024, Thursday |

UN troubled by Tunisia’s ‘regression’ in human rights field

In a statement, Volker Turk, the UN human rights chief, expressed apprehension regarding Tunisia’s decline in the area of human rights. Turk expressed concern over the reversal and relinquishment of the advancements in human rights that Tunisia had achieved in the past decade, noting that it is disconcerting to witness a country that was once filled with optimism now experiencing regression.
“Vague legislation is being used to criminalize independent journalism and stifle criticism of the authorities,” he said, calling on the North African country to “change course.”

The UN rights chief said Tunisian authorities used security and counter-terrorism legislation and a presidential decree on cybercrimes to arrest and convict six journalists for spreading false news.

“The crackdown earlier this year against judges, politicians, labor leaders, businesspeople and civil society actors has now spread to target independent journalists, who are increasingly being harassed and stopped from doing their work,” Turk said.

“Silencing the voices of journalists, in a concerted effort, undermines the crucial role of independent media, with a corrosive effect on society as a whole,” he warned.
Turk went on to call on the Tunisian authorities to “respect due process and fair trial standards in all judicial proceedings, cease trying civilians before military courts and release all those arbitrarily detained.”

The Tunisian Foreign Ministry, for its part, rejected the UN rights chief’s statement and called for objectivity before taking “unrealistic positions.”

“Tunisia reaffirms that freedom of opinion and expression is guaranteed by the constitution and enshrined in reality,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said that arrests cited by the UN rights chief “were based on acts criminalized by Tunisian law and have nothing to do with the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression.”

The ministry called on Tunisia’s partners and all parties “to respect the will and choices of the Tunisian people and their aspirations for reform and justice.”

On Thursday, a Tunisian court ordered the release of journalist Ziad El-Hani, two days after he was arrested pending investigation into charges of cybercrimes.

In February, the Tunisian authorities launched a wide arrest campaign against critics of President Kais Saied, accusing them of being part of a conspiracy against state security.

Tunisia has been in the throes of a deep political crisis that aggravated the country’s economic conditions since 2021 when Saied ousted the government and dissolved parliament. Since then, Saied held a referendum to draft a new constitution last July and parliamentary elections in December.

While the Tunisian leader insists that his measures were meant to “save” the country, critics have accused him of orchestrating a coup.

  • Anadolu Agency