CIVICUS

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Tunisia

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Last updated on 06.09.2018 at 16:20

Tunisia- Overview

In January 2014, the National Constituent Assembly adopted a new constitution, significantly strengthening human rights protections in Tunisia.

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From regulation to restriction: Tunisia's new law a threat to flourishing civil society

From regulation to restriction: Tunisia's new law a threat to flourishing civil society

On 27th July 2018, the Tunisian Parliament passed Law 30 despite opposition from civil society. The new law establishes the National Registry of Institutions and requires public and private companies, including civil society organisations to register with the new entity. As move to tighten regulation on finances, new law comes at a time when Tunisian authorities have been under pressure to improve the transparency of economic transactions in the country.

Association

On 27th July 2018, the Tunisian Parliament passed Law 30 despite opposition from civil society. The new law establishes the National Registry of Institutions and requires not only public and private companies, but all civil society organisations to register with the new entity. As a move to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism, the new law comes at a time when Tunisian authorities have been under pressure to improve the transparency of economic transactions in the country. Critics however, claim that CSOs have been unnecessarily included in the law. In particular, there are concerns that the new legislation grants Tunisian authorities undue powers to curtail freedom of association.  

As highlighted by the International Centre for Non-Profit Law (ICNL) the application to register will now include data on CSO staff, CSO assets, decisions by CSOs to merge or dissolve, and notices or suspension decisions issued against CSOs or CSO networks. The National Registry has the right to approve or deny registration. Failure to register with the new institution could lead to harsh penalties, including up to one year imprisonment or a fine of 10,000 TND (approximately 4,000 USD).

The process of the law's passage has also been controversial. Civil society groups have highlighted the lack of transparency from Tunisian authorities, given that the draft was not made public and Tunisian CSOs were unable to comment on the new provisions. A statement, endorsed by 24 CSOs highlights that law presents a threat to freedom of association in Tunisia. In particular, they noted that: 

“[Law 30] would effectively lead to an aversion to civic work and would affect the transformative role played by associations. It would also limit the principles of freedom of association, a right granted by the Constitution and international treaties ratified by the Tunisian State, as well as decree no. 88 of 2011 concerning associations.”

The new law could make the receipt of foreign funding for civil society more bureaucratic and challenging. The move has been widely viewed as a stain on Tunisia's strong reputation for upholding civic freedoms since the 2011 Jasmine revolution. Tunisia is often cited as having some of the most progressive laws governing the formation and operation of CSOs in the Arab region. 

International groups have also criticised the new law. A fact sheet, prepared by US based CSO, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) highlighted that existing legislation already regulates the work of civil society. In particular, Article 4 of Decree 88 (2011) already prohibits CSOs from incitement to violence, hatred, fanaticism or discrimination on religious, racial or regional grounds, as well as regulates the distributing of money to members for personal benefit or the exploitation of the association for tax evasion purposes. POMED's analysis noted rather than replacing existing laws, there is a need for better enforcement of 2011's Decree 88.

Accordingly on 3rd August 2018, 30 members of the parliament submitted a formal appeal to the Constitutional Court oppose the new law’s unconstitutionality. After pleas by Tunisian civil society were ignored, opposition parties launched an appeal to highlight the law's non-conformity with Articles 35 and 49 of Tunisia's constitution, by placing undue restrictions on the right to form associations and participate in associative activities. 

The CIVICUS Monitor will continue monitoring the outcome of the appeal, and the situation of the civic space in Tunisia.

Peaceful Assembly

On 13th August 2018, thousands of people gathered in the capital, Tunis to demand that men and women be granted equal inheritance rights. In recent years, opposition has been mounting against the traditional laws which enabled men to inherit double what women can receive. Tension over the issue of inheritance had been building. In a display of how divisive the issue continues to be, thousands turned out to protest both for and against amending the current law. In response to the protests, on 13th August 2018, Tunisia's President vowed to submit a bill to Parliament granting equal inheritance between men and women. There are no reports of any of the protests turning violent.  

Association

The space for civil society expanded greatly after the pro-democracy civil uprising in 2011.

The space for civil society expanded greatly after the pro-democracy civil uprising in 2011. Article 35 of the new Tunisian Constitution guarantees the freedom to form and operate associations, and this is regulated by Decree-Law 2011-88. Although the law creates an enabling legal framework, certain gaps in the legislation have opened the door for restrictive practices. Despite only requiring a declaration in order to register an organisation, the law also requires organisations to publish details of foreign funding in the print media. It also places limitations on foreign donors ‘from countries with which Tunisia has no diplomatic relations, or from organisations that defend the interests and policies of those countries.’ Article 33 of the Decree-Law states that organisations can only be suspended or dissolved following a judicial decision. In direct contravention of that provision, the government recently suspended hundreds of organisations for alleged links to terrorism. In general, human rights defenders operate with no major restrictions, however LGBTI organisations suffer harassment and intimidation.

Peaceful Assembly

Article 37 of the Tunisian Constitution guarantees the freedom of peaceful assembly.

Article 37 of the Tunisian Constitution guarantees the freedom of peaceful assembly. However, in practice this right is undermined a law from 1969 and the state of emergency, which was extended in September for another month. The 1969 law severely undermines this right through time and place restrictions on demonstrations, giving the authorities the power to ban a protest that is ‘likely to disrupt public security or public order’ and imposing severe penalties for non-compliance with the law. In practice, security forces have used excessive force to disperse peaceful demonstrations in the country.

Expression

Article 31 the Tunisian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, emphasising that this right shall not be subjected to prior censorship.

Article 31 the Tunisian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, emphasising that this right shall not be subjected to prior censorship. The right to access information and communication networks are also constitutionally protected. Although the transitional government repealed some restrictive legislation and enacted new laws to enable media and journalists to operate without interference, the 1968 Criminal Code and the Code of Military Justice still criminalise certain forms of speech. The authorities have uses these laws along with anti-terrorism laws to persecute bloggers and journalists. Physical attacks and harassment by state and non-state actors against journalists are common, especially journalists covering protests and terrorist attacks. The Tunis Center for Press Freedom (CTLP) documented 26 separate attacks against media professionals in April 2015. Tunisia adopted access to information legislation in 2016.