Tunisia downgraded in global human rights index as President Saied consolidates power and extends crackdown16 March, 2023
- Tunisia downgraded to the second-worst category, ‘repressed’
- Military courts used to prosecute critics of the government
- Raids and closures of media outlets that show critical views of the president
Tunisia has been downgraded from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ in a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. The report, People Power Under Attack 2022, notes that the country's new Constitution gives further sweeping powers to President Kaïs Saied, amid his government’s continued crackdown on critics, civil society and journalists as key developments that led to the downgrade.
A ‘repressed’ rating means civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, are significantly constrained in Tunisia. It is the second-worst rating a country can receive by the CIVICUS Monitor, and other repressed countries include Algeria, Turkey and Sudan.
Following the decision of President Kais Saied to extend his powers indefinitely in July 2021, violations of civic freedoms have continued unabated in Tunisia. As the country faces a deepening political and economic crisis, President Saïed has issued a number of decrees to consolidate power.
Since July 2021, authorities have investigated or prosecuted over 30 people for their criticism of the government. Activists, journalists, lawyers and members of Tunisia’s dissolved parliament have all been targeted. State television has largely stopped broadcasting interviews with critics of the government and a new Cybercrime law which criminalises the spread of false information is being used as a pretext to crackdown on critics, activists and journalists. In January 2023, human rights lawyer Ayachi Hammami appeared before an investigating judge, after he was charged for giving an radio interview as the coordinator of the Committee to Defend the Dismissed Judges, during which he criticised President Saïed and his erosion of judicial independence. Hammami may face ten years in prison.
President Saied has also taken ultimate authority over the judiciary. In February 2022, he dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council, which acted as the main guarantor of judicial independence since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution. He has also purged over 50 judges and has given himself powers to dismiss "any judge failing to do his professional duties". Increasingly military courts are being used in Tunisia to prosecute critics of the government.
“The hard fought democratic gains of the 2011 revolution are rapidly being undone by the President, who is taking steps towards creating a one man, authoritarian regime. Instead of silencing critics and targeting civil society, the President should be working to restore democracy in Tunisia by reversing the restrictive decrees,” said Sylvia Mbataru, Civic Space, Research lead for MENA at the CIVICUS Monitor.
Security forces have also raided the offices and confiscated the equipment of many private media outlets, shut down news outlets, evicted their staff and closed down the offices of Al Jazeera, under allegations of not having the proper broadcasting license. Most recently, in February 2023, police raided the home of Noureddine Boutar Mosaique FM head. Upon arrest, they questioned Boutar over the stations operations, including on who takes editorial decisions on the stations programming and choice of guests, without disclosing the reason for the arrest.
The operating environment for civil society organisations has also become a lot more restricted. In recent years, Tunisia has passed a number of laws related to civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). For example, in 2019, a new law on associations was passed that introduced changes to the registration and reporting requirements for civil society organisations. These changes make it more difficult for NGOs to operate effectively and limit their ability to access foreign funding. In addition, there have been reports of administrative hurdles and delays in obtaining permits and approvals for foreign funding.
Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 550 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2022.
Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
Tunisia is now rated ‘repressed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor. There are 50 other countries with this rating (see all). Visit Tunisia’s homepage on the CIVICUS Monitor for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates.
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