A grouping of 24 international human rights groups has denounced the “escalation of hysterical repression” in Tunisia, following several government attacks on human rights activists and lawyers this month. While Tunisian authorities never have tolerated human rights works and the freedom of expression, activists hold that recent government action go even further than before.

The first three weeks of May witnessed “a series of escalating repressive behaviour,” the 24 organisations said in a statement today. It started on 9 May, when Tunisian security forces attacked lawyers on strike to protest a new law that would give the Tunis government full control over the Supreme Institute for Lawyers and thus threaten the institute’s and the profession’s independence.

On 11 May, head of the newly established independent Syndicate of Journalists, Lotfi Hajji, was detained and interrogated with for four hours after he was accused of holding a secret meeting in his place. Press freedom is not granted at all in Tunisia, which figures on the top-five list of African states censoring media.

On 18 May, Tunisian authorities prevented the family of recently deceased human rights activist, Adel Arfaoui, from entering the headquarters of the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) to attend a memorial ceremony in the honour of Mr Arfaoui.

According to the human rights groups, “security harassments” continued to the extent that Tunisian authorities attacked a member of the executive office of the Swiss Branch of Amnesty International, Yves Steiner, while he was attending the annual general meeting of Amnesty’s Tunisia Branch. On 21 May, as the meeting was underway, around ten plain clothes policemen went to the hotel and requested to see Mr Steiner.

In front of 200 or so Amnesty members and the Swiss Ambassador to Tunisia, Mr Steiner was detained, without any explanation or warrant. Several hours later, Mr Steiner was able to contact his colleagues to let them know that he had left the police station, where had had been detained and that he was about to be expelled to Paris.

In what seemed “an attempt to escalate attacks against independent voices,” security forces attacked on Tuesday a number of lawyers and stormed into the office of the head of the Tunisian Bar Association, Abdel Sattar Moussa, the human rights groups report. At the bar’s offices, they confiscated a number of the Mr Moussa’s documents. “This is a violation of the law and all international norms,” the human rights groups hold.

In the statement released today, the 24 human rights groups say they “seriously condemn these attacks” and announce that they will “continue to work on revealing the crimes of the Tunisian regime against lawyers, activists, and Tunisian citizens that reached extent of harassing anyone in contact with any of these activists as was the case with the relatives and friends of the former prisoner of opinion, Hamadi Jebali, who were recently questioned about their relation with him.”

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), organised in Tunis six months ago, focused international attention on the host country’s poor human rights record and freedom of expression, which remains well below international standards. A recent fact-finding mission by an international freedom of expression monitoring group concluded that since the WSIS, the Tunisian government has not only failed to improve the situation substantially, it has increased restrictions on human rights defenders, judges and some independent journalists.

Source : Afrol News, 24 May –