Student activist held in Tunisia at risk of torture

A Tunisian student activist, detained incommunicado since his arrest on 22 October, is at risk of torture and ill-treatment, Amnesty International said.

Mohammed Soudani was arrested on the same day that he met with two French radio journalists who were covering the presidential and legislative elections that took place on 25 October.

Amnesty International said that it believes that they were interviewing Mohammed Soudani because he is an active member within the student movement, the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET).

His family and lawyer have been unable to obtain any information about him since he disappeared. He is believed to be held at the State Security Department of the Ministry of Interior in Tunis, where torture is common.

On the evening that he was arrested, Mohammed Soudani phoned his lawyers and friends and told them that there were a number of security officers outside the Africa Hotel in Tunis where he had met the journalists.

He said that if they didn’t hear from him after 10pm then he had very likely been arrested. His mobile phone has since remained switched off.

On 23 October, unable to find out any information on the whereabouts of his client, Mohammed Soudani’s lawyer filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor in Tunis about the enforced disappearance of Mohammed Soudani.

Mohammed Soudani’s family has not been informed of his arrest or whereabouts as required under Tunisian law and his father was unable to obtain any information on him from police in the city of Mehdia, 200km south of Tunis, where Mohammed Soudani lives.

Mohammed Soudani was expelled from university in 2007 because of his activities within the UGET.

He told Amnesty International during a meeting in October 2009 that he was previously arrested on 29 June 2007 and detained for 12 days, during which he said he was tortured, and then sentenced to a six month suspended prison sentence. He also said he was again detained for another six days in October 2008, stripped of his clothes and beaten.

Mohammed Soudani has been prosecuted several times, and has also served a two-month prison term. He believes that the charges brought against him are related to his activism for the UGET.

On 11 February 2009 he and four other students went on hunger strike for 58 days, to demand their right to education and reintegration into university. They also demanded that judicial proceedings against them be dropped.

Amnesty International has urged the Tunisian authorities to disclose Mohammed Soudani’s whereabouts immediately, give him access to a lawyer of his choice, his family and any medical attention he may require and to ensure that he is not tortured or otherwise ill-treated.

The organization has also called for his immediate and unconditional release, unless he is promptly charged with a recognizably criminal offence.