Geneva - Tunisian authorities’ continued use of arbitrary detention and suppression of freedoms reveals their determination to proceed with the strategy of criminalising and eliminating evidence of political opposition, as well as cancelling constitutional rights guaranteed to entities and individuals, Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement.

Euro-Med Monitor has been following with great concern the Tunisian security services’ detention of several political opponents, former judges, and a businessman on charges that appear to be broadly worded, politically motivated, and consistent with authorities’ escalating campaign against freedoms since President Kais Saied announced the exceptional measures on 25 July 2021.

Among the detainees are former judges Bechir Akremi and Tayeb Rached, politicians Khayam Turki and Abdelhamid Jelassi, and businessman Kamel Eltaïef, as well as two retired members of the Tunisian National Guard and the diplomatic corps. While an official statement regarding the arrests has not been made, media outlets close to authorities stated that they are connected to an investigation into a conspiracy against state security and an assault intended to overthrow the government, which is a crime punishable by death under Article 72 of the Tunisian Penal Code.

   The criminalisation of opposition activities under vague security pretexts cannot justify violations of the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly   

According to Mariem Jelassi, the detained politician’s daughter, 12 security forces stormed her family’s house on Saturday evening, detained her father, and confiscated his computer as well as his and her mother’s mobile phones. The security force did not explain why the house was searched or her father was detained, nor did they reveal where he would be transferred.

Many of the detainees are well-known for their political activism and for leading public activities against the measures taken by Saied in the last two years, which have allowed him to seize control of all state powers, including legislative authority. The criminalisation of opposition activities under vague security pretexts cannot justify violations of the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly, and only contributes to a worsening of Tunisia’s human rights situation, which Saied has long pledged not to jeopardise.

Aside from the detentions, the Euro-Med Monitor team observed a possibly coordinated campaign on Facebook and Twitter led by accounts that seem to be linked to Tunisian authorities. Those accounts promoted the detainees’ involvement in a coup against the state and claimed that the detention campaign would continue and would include other personalities, presumably in an attempt to justify and normalise the suppression of freedoms in the eyes of the public.

The deliberate false equivalency between peaceful opposition activity and coup aims to criminalise political participation, intimidate individuals and entities, and pressure them to refrain from engaging in any activities opposing the authorities, all within the context of strengthening authoritarian rule and eliminating political pluralism in the country. Saied’s decrees and orders over the last two years, particularly Decrees 54 and 11 of 2022, legitimise the arbitrary detention of dissidents and the suppression of freedoms, plus assist executive authorities in tightening their grip on the judiciary and using it to exact revenge on opponents and forcibly disappear them.

Tunisia’s new constitution, supervised by President Saied and ratified without political consensus following a controversial popular referendum, affirms citizens’ freedoms, as stated in Article 55: “No restrictions on the rights and freedoms guaranteed by this Constitution shall be imposed unless required by law and necessity for national defence, public security, public health, protection of others’ rights, or public morals.”

Authorities in Tunisia must immediately release all those who have been detained for exercising their legitimate rights to free expression and peaceful assembly, stop using politically motivated charges to suppress freedoms and criminalise opposition, and end all security practices that undermine individuals’ constitutional rights.