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Tunisia: Amend Counterterrorism Law

30 May 2013

Tunisian legislators should revise the 2003 counterterrorism law, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the National Constituent Assembly.

The 2003 law uses an overly broad definition of terrorism and incitement to terrorism and undermines the right to an effective defense. Prosecutors should not charge anyone under the law until it is amended in line with Tunisia’s human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said.

Earlier in May, judicial authorities charged at least eight people with crimes under the law, adopted in 2003 under former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. Recent attacks on Tunisian security forces near the Algerian border have led some government officials to call for the increased application of the law. Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice Samir Dilou announced in May that he had created a commission to draft a revised law and that it will debate reform proposals on May 30 and 31.

“Tunisian authorities should immediately stop using a counterterrorism law that Ben Ali used for years to cut off any form of dissent,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Tunisian authorities and lawmakers need to fix the old discredited counterterrorism law to make sure it actually targets acts of terrorism and that it doesn’t violate anyone’s rights.”

More than 16 members of Tunisian security forces have been injured since April 28 during operations against a group in the Chaambi Mountains near the Tunisian-Algerian border. The government says that preliminary investigations suggest the group is linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. On May 8, the Ministries of Defense and Interior said that the security forces had arrested 37 people involved “directly or indirectly” with “the events in the region.”

In May, an investigative judge of the Tribunal of First Instance of Tunis decided to prosecute seven people for the murder of a security officer in Jbel Jloud area in Tunis under the terrorism law. On May 10, another investigative judge of the same tribunal charged a lawyer, Mohamed el Mehdi Zagrouba, with failure to notify the authorities of a terrorist act under article 22 of the law. The judge later withdrew this charge.

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