Extended state of emergency could curtail civic freedoms in Tunisia
On 18th October, the Tunisian government extended the state of emergency for another three months. The decision raised concerns amongst domestic and international civic groups who fear that it permits authorities to implement arbitrary and prohibitive measures to curtail fundamental freedoms. Tunisia's new administration, which has been in place since August, has recognised the need for rapid policy reform to quell social unrest. However, the extension of overbroad emergency provisions allows authorities to ban strikes and meetings that might 'provoke or maintain disorder', grants power to temporarily close theatres, and permits authorities to control and censor media outlets. Tunisia has been in a constant state of emergency since terrorist attacks in November 2015. In a recent interview, local Tunisian journalist Abdul Sattar Aydi said:
'..the emergency provisions can be exploited by the government to limit individual freedoms or in the suppression of social protests and labor strikes or hitting the freedom of expression and publication and the press.'
Human Rights Watch also commented on the excessive and prolonged use of emergency provisions in their recent submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council's 27th Universal Periodic Review on Tunisia. The submission, released on October 6th called upon Tunisian authorities to:
'Ensure that measures taken under the state of emergency are not arbitrary, are strictly necessary for the exigencies of the situation and are ended as soon as they are no longer strictly necessary and that they are carried out with respect to the rule of law and provide the affected person with access to a meaningful review of any decision restricting his or her liberties, including the right to judicial review of any form of detention.'
Despite the extension of the state of the emergency, a recent report by Tunisian organisation Le Forum Tunsien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux (FTDES) noted that several protests movements have sprung up across the country. In many cases local social and economic issues have driven social mobilisations. These protests covered a range of issues including freedom of opinion, economic inflation, unemployment and marginalisation, shortage of water and electricity, the quality of social services, social mobility, child labor and socio-economic opportunities for rural women. The report also notes that the majority of these protests took place outside administrative buildings, emphasising the frustration of Tunisian people with the provision of local services. On 21st October, a series of demonstrations took place throughout the country against austerity measures proposed in a forthcoming budget law. Thousands of lawyers turned out to demonstrate against the proposed economic policy to cut the government's budget deficit.
On 25th October, the General Union of Information which is a part of the Tunisian General Labor Union, issued a statement highlighting the 'real danger' threatening freedom of expression and independence of the press from lobbyists and political coercion. The statement came in the wake of public comments by a prominent businessman to the effect that he had 'bought' journalists. In the statement, the Union called upon journalists to defend their profession from corporate and political interests and to ensure that impartiality in their reporting was upheld.