Tunisia Urged to Release All Prisoners of Conscience
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights joined Tunisian human rights organizations on Friday in calling on the Tunisia government to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience.
They also called for ending the routine harassment of former prisoners of conscience and critics of the authorities, according to the Human Rights Watch news website.
The three organizations said the move must cover all known or suspected government opponents or human rights activists who had been imprisoned, prosecuted or harassed simply for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of opinion, expression or association.
“The repression of government critics has intensified over the past two weeks with prominent figures being arrested, put on trial or arbitrarily banned from travel,” said a joint statement.
Most recently, Sihem Ben Sedrine, a journalist and spokesperson of the Conseil National des Libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), or National Council for Liberties in Tunisia, was arrested on June 26 after flying into Tunis, and was charged with defaming the judiciary and spreading false information, apparently because of her recent public criticism outside Tunisia of the deteriorating human rights situation.
She has been jailed, awaiting trial on July 5, said the web site report.
On June 19, Mohamed Mouadda, former prisoner of conscience and former leader of the Mouvement des Démocrates Socialistes (MDS), Movement of Democratic Socialists, the main legal opposition party in Tunisia, was arrested and sent back to jail apparently because of his recent public calls for increased political freedoms.
He had been conditionally released in December 1996 after spending over a year in prison on what the rights watchdog termed "trumped-up charges" of being a Libyan agent. He had been arrested on October 9, 1995, the very day he went public with a critical letter addressed to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali complaining about the lack of genuine pluralism.
Moncef Marzouki, a doctor and leading member of the CNLT, also faces a period in jail.
Since December 2000 he has had a one-year prison sentence hanging over his head after being convicted of belonging to an "unauthorized" association and spreading "false" information in connection with statements he made on human rights and the need for government transparency.
He is awaiting the outcome of an appellate court hearing which began on June 23 and continues on July 7.
Up to 1,000 political prisoners, most of them prisoners of conscience, remain in prison in Tunisia, said web site report.
“They are detained in conditions that amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” added the authors.
Dozens of these prisoners went on a hunger strike this year to demand their release and to protest against torture and their conditions of detention, including lack of access to medical care – Albawaba.com