Tunisia crackdowns raise concern ahead of polls


Tunisian President Kais Saied

from GHADA KHALIFA in Tunis, Tunisia
Tunisia Bureau
TUNIS, (CAJ News) – TUNISIA has heightened a crackdown on critics of the government as it consolidates a ban on public freedoms and restricts peaceful assembly.

This has marred preparations for elections scheduled for later this year.

The clampdown extends the deteriorating human rights situation in the country since 2021, with President Kais Saied at the helm.

The repression practices comprise the continued detention and summoning of journalists, political figures and civilians on grounds of the right to protest.

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor has expressed concern.

It pointed to the ruling of the Court of First Instance in the northern of city of Ben Arous, last Monday, sentencing journalist and editor-in-chief of the Inhiyaz website, Ghassan Ben Khalifa, to six months in prison for defamation through social media platforms.

This is based on a lawsuit filed against him more than a year ago accusing him of being behind a Facebook page opposing Saied.

This past weekend, authorities summoned Secretary-General of the Republican People’s Union Party, Lotfi Mraihi, to appear before the “Fifth Central Brigade for Combating Communication and Information Crimes of the National Guard in El Aouina” due to alleged statements he made on a private radio station criticizing Saied.

Recently, authorities detained five citizens in the northwestern town of Grombalia for more than 30 hours after their participation in a protest against lack of water supply.

The area is a hotspot for protests against lack of delivery of services.

Polls in the North African country are scheduled for November.

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies states that Tunisia is among the African countries that have experienced the most precipitous decline in democratic governance since its last electoral cycle—rivaling the military coups against democratic governments in West Africa.

Saied has been in power since 2019.

Saied’s dissolution of Parliament in 2021 and subsequent rule by decree has been described as an auto-coup.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that Tunisia experienced further regression in terms of human rights and the rule of law during 2023 in the absence of genuine checks and balances on Saied’s power.

At least 40 critics were behind bars as of December 2023.

“The imprisoning of dissidents and the subjugation of the judiciary are more severe today than at any time since the revolution of 2011,” Salsabil Chellali, Tunisia director at HRW, said.

– CAJ News

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