PUBLIC AI Index: MDE 30/15/99
UA 116/99 Fear for safety 21 May 1999
TUNISIAHuman Rights Defenders
Human rights defenders in Tunisia are facing increased intimidation and
harassment and there are fears for their safety.
In the run-up to the trial of human rights lawyer Radhia Nasraoui, scheduled
to begin on 15 May, a number of human rights lawyers and activists have had
their telephone lines disconnected. Police surveillance, a regular feature
in the daily life of many human rights defenders, has recently increased and
a number of lawyers and human rights defenders report being constantly followed.
Members of the Conseil National pour les libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), National
Council for Liberties in Tunisia (created on 10 December 1998 but refused
recognition by the authorities), have been particularly targeted.
On 20 May, Taoufik Ben Brik, journalist and member of the CNLT, was attacked
in broad daylight by three men armed with chains, outside his home in Tunis.
He sustained injuries on his arms. His telephone line has been disconnected.
Two weeks earlier, his wife, Azza, had her car windows smashed as she was shopping
with their two young children. Before that Taoufik Ben Brik had been summoned
for interrogation by the security forces and had his passport confiscated.
All this appears to be the result of a number of articles he had recently written
for newspapers and press agencies in France and Switzerland which strongly
criticized the deterioration in the human rights situation and the increasing
lack of public liberties and press freedom in Tunisia.
Omar Mestiri, secretary-general of the CNLT, was arrested on 12 May at his
home in the capital, Tunis. He was detained until the following evening at
the Ministry of the Interior and was questioned about his activities within
the CNLT. His telephone was disconnected after his arrest and has not been
In recent weeks the CNLT has issued several statements expressing concern at
the human rights situation and increasing restrictions on freedom of expression
and association in Tunisia. Omar Mestiri was arrested the day after the CNLT
issued an appeal condemning the arrest of 10 senior members of the Union Générale
des Travailleurs Tunisiens, General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), who were
detained for two days at the Ministry of the Interior for issuing a petition
condemning the authorities’ interference in the UGTT’s affairs.
Khemais Ksila, Vice-President of the Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme
(LTDH), Tunisian Human Rights League, detained since September 1997, is serving
a three-year prison sentence for issuing a communiqué criticizing the human
rights situation in Tunisia. His wife and children have been continually
harassed and recently his 11-year-old son was prevented from leaving the country
to go to Egypt to receive a human rights award on his behalf.
Others human rights defenders subjected to increased harassment include human
rights lawyer Najet Yaqoubi, member of the Association Tunisienne des Femmes
Démocrates (ATFD), Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, who is constantly
followed by police and whose home and office are under surveillance.
Radhia Nasraoui and 20 others are accused of links with an unauthorized
association and participation in unauthorized meetings. The case has attracted