Tunisian national at risk after forcible return from Italy

A Tunisian national is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment in his home country after being forcibly returned from Italy on Sunday. Forty-four-year-old Ali Ben Sassi Toumi has been held incommunicado and his relatives have not been informed of his whereabouts.

Ali Ben Sassi Toumi was arrested at the airport in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, following his forcible return from Italy. He sent an SMS (text) message to his wife in Italy to say that he had arrived, but he did not meet a friend who was waiting for him at the airport, and his family has not heard from him since.

He is believed to be held at the Department of State Security (DSS) of the Ministry of Interior in Tunis. Detainees held incommunicado there are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

The Tunisian authorities have not informed any of Ali Ben Sassi Toumi’s immediate relatives in Tunisia about the reasons for and place of his detention, as required under Tunisian law, despite inquiries from his lawyer.

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.

The Italian authorities have previously forcibly returned two Tunisians 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. Both are currently serving prison sentences imposed by a military court.

On 27 January 2009, Sami Ben Khemais Essid was removed from prison by State Security Department officials and taken to the premises of the Ministry of Interior, where he was kept for two days, interrogated about other suspects and tortured. He was again removed from the prison in June 2009 for further interrogation and threatened with further torture.