Tunisian national released on bail after forcible return from Italy

A Tunisian national, forcibly returned to his home country from Italy, was released on bail late on Monday, after having spent eight days in detention.

Ali Ben Sassi Toumi, 44, has been accused of “membership of a terrorist organization”, “providing expertise and logistical support to a terrorist organization” and fraud.

Following his forcible return from Italy on 2 August, Ali Ben Sassi Toumi was arrested on arrival at the airport in the capital, Tunis. He was then taken to the State Security Department of the Ministry of Interior and kept in pre-arraignment police custody (garde à vue) until 7 August.

On the same day, he was brought before an investigating judge at the Court of First Instance in Tunis who remanded him in detention at Mornaguia Prison.

On Monday, he was brought before the investigating judge and questioned in the presence of a lawyer assigned to him by the court. The lawyer engaged by his relatives to represent him had sought the investigating judge’s permission to visit Ali Ben Sassi Toumi in prison only minutes earlier, but without success. Ali Ben Sassi Toumi was then released on bail.

Ali Ben Sassi Toumi left his house on Tuesday, but was recalled by a phone call from his uncle, acting on police instructions. Police were waiting for him when he returned. They told him that he is not permitted to go out or meet other people without first informing the police and obtaining their authorization. Consequently, he is effectively restricted to his home.

Investigations into the terrorism-related charges levelled against Ali Ben Sassi Toumi are still ongoing. However, he is expected to appear in court on Friday to be tried in connection with the fraud charges.

Ali Ben Sassi Toumi was released from prison in Benevento, Italy, on 18 May, after serving four years of a six-year sentence on charges of belonging to a terrorist cell in Italy and recruiting fighters for the insurgency in Iraq. He applied for asylum in Italy, but his claim was rejected on the basis that he had been convicted of committing a “serious crime”.

He had been held in an immigration detention centre known as an Identification and Expulsion Centre (Centro di identificazione ed espulsione) in Isola di Capo Rizzuto in the Province of Crotone, south-east Italy, since his release from prison.

He was forcibly returned despite the European Court of Human Rights calling three times on the Italian authorities to stay the deportation, on the grounds that he was at risk of torture and other ill-treatment in Tunisia.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International campaigned on Ali Ben Sassi Toumi’s behalf. The organization urged the Tunisian authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, unless he was promptly charged with a recognizably criminal offence and brought to trial in proceedings that meet international standards for fair trial.

Amnesty International spoke to Ali Ben Sassi Toumi following his release. He has expressed his gratitude to all those who sent appeals on his behalf.

The Italian authorities have previously forcibly returned two Tunisian nationals back to Tunisia despite similar calls from the European Court of Human Rights. Sami Ben Khemais Essid was returned in June 2008 and Mourad Trabelsi in December 2008. Both are currently serving prison sentences imposed by a military court.