Report on Human Rights Practices for 2001
Tunisia is a republic dominated by a single political party. President
Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and his Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD)
party have controlled the Government, including the legislature, since
1987. This dominance was reaffirmed in an overwhelming RCD victory in
the October 1999 legislative and presidential elections, the first multicandidate
presidential race in the country's history. Although 1999 revisions to
the Constitution allowed two opposition candidates to run against Ben
Ali in presidential elections, Ben Ali won 99.44 percent of the ballots
cast for President. Approximately 20 percent of representation in the
Chamber of Deputies is reserved for opposition parties (34 of 182 seats).
The Constitution provides that a person may serve only three terms as
President; however, in July the RCD called for President Ben Ali to seek
a fourth term in 2004, which would require a constitutional amendment.
The President appoints the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the 24 governors.
The executive branch and the President strongly influence the judiciary,
particularly in sensitive political cases.
The police share responsibility for internal security with a paramilitary
National Guard. The police operate in the capital and a few other cities.
In outlying areas, their policing duties are shared with, or ceded to,
the National Guard. Both forces are under the control of the Minister
of Interior and the President. Security forces continued to commit serious
human rights abuses.
The country has a population of 9.6 million. It has made substantial
progress toward establishing an export-oriented market economy based
on manufactured exports, tourism, agriculture, and petroleum. The per
capita gross national product was estimated to be $2,200, while real
per capita income grew by an estimated 2.1 percent.
More than 60 percent of citizens are in the middle class and enjoy
a comfortable standard of living. The Government reported in April that
only 4.2 percent of citizens fell below the poverty line, and that more
than 80 percent of households owned their own homes. The Government
devotes 54 percent of the budget to social and development goals. The
Government cites these statistics in defending its human rights record.
The Government generally respected the rights of its citizens in some
areas, particularly the rights of women and children; however, the Government's
record remained poor in other areas, and significant problems remain.
There are significant limitations on citizens' right to change their
government. While observers agree that the outcome of the 1999 elections
generally reflected the will of the electorate, the campaign and election
processes greatly favored the ruling party, and there was wide disregard
for the secrecy of the vote. However, opposition parties have been given
some limited opportunity to criticize the Government through the press
regarding human rights and the electorate's ability to effect democratic
There were reports of four extrajudicial killings by authorities. Members
of the security forces tortured and physically abused prisoners and
detainees. The Government asserts that police officials who commit abuses
are disciplined, and in July in the first case of its kind four prison
guards were sentenced to prison terms for torture. The Government during
the year also sentenced to prison terms some security officials found
responsible for deaths in custody; security forces were responsible
for physical abuse, intimidation, and other harassment of citizens who
voiced public criticism of the Government. Prison conditions range from
Spartan to poor. Security forces arbitrarily arrest and detain persons.
However, during the year, legal responsibility for the prison and parole
systems was transferred from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry
of Justice. The Justice Ministry has stated publicly its intent to improve
prison conditions. International observers have not been allowed to
inspect the prisons. Lengthy pretrial detention and incommunicado detention
continue to be problems.
Prison officials often deny access to prisoners by their lawyers and
family members. Provisions enacted in 1999 to lower the maximum incommunicado
detention period and require authorities to notify family members at
the time of arrest are enforced unevenly. Although the judiciary is
nominally independent, it is subject to executive branch control, particularly
in politically sensitive cases. Lengthy delays in trials are a problem,
and due process rights are not always observed, despite a Government
initiative establishing a court to oversee the proper administration
of sentences. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights,
including by intercepting mail and interfering with Internet communication.
Security forces also monitored the activities of government critics
and at times harassed them, their relatives, and associates.
The Government continued to impose significant restrictions on freedom
of speech and of the press, although they were somewhat eased during
the year. In April the Chamber of Deputies approved what most observers
considered to be largely cosmetic changes to the Press Code, transferring
a number of offenses from the Press Code to the Penal Code, thereby
making them subject to judicial review, as well as streamlining the
censorship process. In June the Government began a campaign ostensibly
to promote pluralism and press freedom, which resulted in the publication
of some articles that addressed sensitive democracy and human rights
issues. However, direct criticism of Government policies or officials
remains restricted and rare. Editors and journalists continue to practice
self-censorship. The Government remained intolerant of public criticism,
using physical abuse, criminal investigations, the court system, arbitrary
arrests, and travel controls (including denial of passports), to discourage
criticism and limit the activities of human rights activists. In July
the Government suspended a sitting district judge for criticizing the
lack of independence of the judicial system. The London-based Al-Mustaquella
satellite television program began in April broadcasting to the country,
devoting 2 hours each Sunday afternoon to call-in segments that focus
on democracy, and civil and human rights. Some critics who criticized
the Government on the Al-Mustaquella program later were arrested upon
returning to the country. The Government continued to use the mandatory
prescreening of publications and control of advertising revenue as a
means to discourage newspapers and magazines from publishing material
that it considered undesirable. The opposition Democratic Progressive
Party (PDP) claimed that in January and August copies of its Al-Mawqif
newspaper were removed from newsstands because they contained an article
critical of the Government. The Government regularly seized editions
of foreign newspapers containing articles that it considered objectionable.
However, the Government permitted several foreign journals to return
to the newsstands during the year after they were banned from sale in
1999 following articles critical of the presidential and legislative
elections. The Government also improved access to the Internet.
The Government restricts freedom of assembly and association. The Government
limits partially the religious freedom of members of the Baha'i faith,
and does not permit proselytizing. The Government continued to restrict
the freedom of movement of government critics and their family members.
The Government subjected members of the Tunisian Human Rights League
(LTDH) and other human rights activists to physical abuse, harassment,
interrogation, property loss or damage, and denial of passports. An
appellate verdict in the civil case against the LTDH in June upheld
the lower court's 2000 decision to annul the election of the LTDH board,
while at the same time giving the sitting board responsibility for operating
the LTDH with caretaker responsibilities until a new election could
be held within 1 year. The Government continued to meet with the LTDH,
but refused to approve the registration of the nongovernmental organization
(NGO), National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT), and continued
to harass and prosecute CNLT members. CNLT spokesperson Sihem Bensedrine
was arrested in June for allegedly inflammatory comments she made while
appearing on Al-Mustaquella. She was released 6 weeks later as part
of a broader amnesty. While permitting some representatives from human
rights organizations to enter the country and attend trials, the Government
prohibited others from entering and deported the Secretary-General of
the NGO Reporters without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres-RSF).
The Government continued to demonstrate its strong support for the
rights of women and children; however, legal discrimination against
women continued to exist in property and inheritance law, which is governed
by Shari'a (Islamic law), and societal discrimination exists in areas
such as private sector employment. The Government took strong measures
to reduce official discrimination, including requiring equal opportunity
for women as a standard part of its audits of all governmental entities
and state-owned enterprises; however, such measures are not extended
to the private sector. Child labor exists but continues to decline,
due principally to government efforts to address the problem.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom
a. Arbitrary and Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports of political killings; however, there were allegations
during the year of four killings or deaths in custody in which members
of the security forces were involved directly or in which they were
accused of complicity.
According to an interview with CNLT spokesperson Sihem Bensedrine broadcast
on the Al-Mustaquella satellite in June, police arrested Abderrahman
Jehinaoui (23 years old) in Sijoumi (near Tunis) in January and beat
him to death on March 9 while he was in custody. CNLT also reported
the suspicious deaths while in prison of Ryadh Bouslama (22 years old)
on December 29, 2000, in Monastir, and of Zine Ben Brik on April 27,
at the Bulla Reggia prison in Jendouba. The CNLT alleged criminal negligence
by prison authorities in both cases. The CNLT claimed that Hassene Azouzi
(18 years old) was mistreated while in the 9 Avril prison in Tunis.
Azouzi was arrested March 17 and, after the court's denial of his lawyer's
request for medical care, died in prison on May 12.
The Government announced judicial determinations in previous cases
involving alleged killing or complicity by security forces. The Government
reported the conviction of the police officer implicated in the August
2000 killing of Chaker Azouzi, who was kicked and beaten to death for
failure to stop for police. The police officer was sentenced in April
to 10 years in prison and ordered, along with the Ministry of Interior,
to pay material and punitive damages to Azouzi's family.
The Government reported that its investigation into the June 2000 prison
death of El-Aid Ben Salah resulted in the February conviction of one
of Ben Salah's cellmates. The accused prisoner was sentenced to 20 years
in prison for his role in the beating. The LTDH reported in 2000 that
Ben Salah's cellmates beat him to death and that, despite his cries,
prison guards did nothing to save him. No prison guards or other officials
were prosecuted or otherwise disciplined or sanctioned.
The Government reported the convictions in March of two persons accused
of assault in the September 2000 case of Riadh Mohamed J'day, who was
beaten to death while in police detention. The Government originally
claimed that J'day committed suicide by hanging himself with his shirt
from the bars in his cell and that he died on the way to the hospital.
The two persons were each sentenced to 2 years in prison. The Government
declined to specify whether the two were members of the security forces
or were themselves prisoners.
The Government reported a verdict in March in the civil appeal of the
July 1998 case of Islamist Tijani Dridi, who allegedly died in police
custody. The Government has maintained that Dridi died as a result of
injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident before he was taken into
custody. The court of appeal agreed, and ordered the insurance company
to pay a settlement to Dridi's beneficiaries.
There was no new information regarding the investigation of the case
of Tahar Jelassi, whom prison guards reportedly tortured to death for
refusing to remove his clothes during a routine search at Grombalia
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Penal Code prohibits the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman,
or degrading treatment or punishment; however, security forces reportedly
routinely used various methods of torture to coerce confessions from
detainees. The forms of torture included electric shock; submersion
of the head in water; beatings with hands, sticks, and police batons;
cigarette burns, and food and sleep deprivation. Police also reportedly
utilized the "rotisserie" method: stripping prisoners naked,
manacling their wrists behind their ankles, and beating the prisoners
while they were suspended from a rod. A 1999 CNLT report on prison conditions
described other forms of torture, including the "falaqa,"
which consists of suspending a prisoner by the feet and severely beating
the soles of the feet; suspension of a prisoner from the metal door
of his cell for hours until the prisoner loses consciousness; and confinement
of the prisoner to the "cachot," a tiny, unlit cell. One prisoner,
Ali Mansouri, had both his legs amputated in April 2000 as a result
of mistreatment received in prison. Mansouri alleged he was severely
beaten and chained in his prison cell by guards in order to force him
to abandon a hunger strike. In the first case of its kind, Mansouri
filed criminal charges against the prison guards. In July the court
found four guards guilty of torture and sentenced them each to 4 years
in prison. It also ordered the Government to pay $210,000 (315,000 dinars)
in compensation to Mansouri. One of the prison guards testified that
he was acting on orders from a superior. Another prisoner, Sadok Chourou,
reported that prison officials had routinely withheld food parcels sent
by his family.
According to Amnesty International (AI) and defense attorneys, the
courts routinely fail to investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment
and have accepted as evidence confessions extracted under torture. In
August 1999, in order to address U.N. concerns, the Government enacted
amendments to the Penal Code that adopted the U.N. definition of torture,
instructed police to inform detainees of their rights, including, notably,
the right of a defendant to demand a medical examination while in detention,
and increased the maximum penalty for those convicted of committing
acts of torture from 5 to 8 years. The Government also shortened the
maximum allowable period of prearraignment incommunicado detention from
10 to 6 days and added a requirement that the police notify suspects'
families on the day of their arrest (see Section 1.d.). However, credible
sources claimed that the Government rarely enforces the new provisions
and that appeals to the court for enforcement are routinely denied.
During her six-week detention in the Manouba prison in a suburb of Tunis,
journalist and human rights activist Sihem Bensedrine reported sharing
a cell with 27 others who were detained awaiting sentencing (see Section
1.d.). In its annual report for 2000, Human Rights Watch stated that
despite the reduction of incommunicado detention from 10 to 6 days,
torture continued to be a problem, due to a climate of impunity "fostered
by a judiciary that ignored evidence of torture and routinely convicted
defendants on the basis of coerced confessions." In its March 2000
report on torture, the CNLT stated that "torture continues to be
practiced on a large scale" and affects not only political prisoners
but common criminals as well.
Human rights advocates maintain that charges of torture and mistreatment
are difficult to substantiate because government authorities often deny
medical examinations until evidence of abuse has disappeared. The Government
maintained that it investigates all complaints of torture and mistreatment
filed with the prosecutor's office and claimed that alleged victims
sometimes publicly accused authorities of acts of abuse without taking
the steps required to initiate an investigation. However, the CNLT stated
in its March report on torture that police often refuse to register
complaints and judges dismiss complaints lodged by alleged victims of
torture with little or no investigation. Absent a formal complaint,
the Government may open an administrative investigation but is unlikely
to release the results to the lawyers of affected prisoners. The Government
appears to distinguish Islamists from other political opposition prisoners;
prisoners whom the Government has identified as Islamists tend to receive
harsher treatment during their arrests and confinement. The conviction
of the prison guards in the Mansouri case in July represented the first
publicly documented instance in which prison security officials were
disciplined for such abuse.
Security forces attacked and beat citizens, particularly human rights
activists, on numerous occasions during the year for holding demonstrations
or meetings, or for criticizing the Government (see Sections 2.b and
4). For example, in February Nazia Boudhib, a member of the Tunisian
Association of Democratic Women (ATFD), was assaulted by plainclothes
police, who seized documents from her. Also in February, human rights
organizations reported that Jallel Zoghlami, director of the unauthorized
publication Kaws El Karama, was attacked by five plainclothes policemen
armed with knives and truncheons. Police again attacked Zoghlami the
next day when he was returning home from the hospital with supporters.
A large number of security forces waiting at his house attacked him
again and his supporters. Human rights groups allege that the initial
attack was in response to an editorial printed the month before in Kaws
El Karama calling for a change of government. In March Anouar Kousri,
president of the Bizerte LTDH office reported heavy surveillance and
harassment by police. In April credible reports indicated that Souhayr
Belhassen, vice president of the LTDH, was attacked at Tunis-Carthage
airport as she returned from human rights meetings in Europe. Plainclothes
police took her documents from her and shouted abusive epithets, calling
her a traitor to her country.
In November student members of the RCD who, according to human rights
organizations, were organized into gangs armed with chains, knives,
and truncheons, attacked opposing student candidates for university
councils representing the independent national student union (UGET)
at several campuses. The most serious attacks took place at the University
of Tunis Manouba campus (12 miles from Tunis) and at the University
of the Center Monastir campus (84 miles from Tunis). According to reports,
the violence appears to have stemmed from efforts by the RCD student
group to increase its near 90 percent majority on the scientific councils
throughout the country.
On November 2-3, university police armed with truncheons beat UGET
leaders and prevented them from entering the faculty of science in Monastir.
According to the Committee for the Respect of Human Rights (CRLDH),
RCD gangs attacked two students with chains and knives, fracturing the
hand of one and putting the other in a coma. Police arrested several
On November 3, an RCD student gang armed with chains and knives broke
into the science faculty at Manouba and beat a professor and UGET official.
Incidents of similar violence by what appear to be RCD gangs were reported
at the journalism school and the engineering school at the Manouba campus.
The Rally for an International Alternative for Development (RAID),
an illegal NGO reported that on December 26, three men attacked one
of its members, Nizar Amami, in the street; they fled in a waiting car
after the attack. RAID claimed that Amami was kicked in the face by
one of the men after being distracted by another who shouted epithets
According to defense attorneys and former prisoners, prison conditions
ranged from Spartan to poor and, in some cases, did not meet international
standards. Credible sources reported that overcrowding continued to
be a serious problem, with 40 to 50 prisoners typically confined to
a single 194-square foot cell, and up to 140 prisoners held in a 323-square
foot cell. Defense attorneys reported that prisoners in the 9 Avril
prison in Tunis were forced to share a single water and toilet facility
with over 100 cellmates, creating serious sanitation problems.
There were credible reports that conditions and prison rules were harsher
for political prisoners than for the general prison population. One
credible report alleged the existence of special cell blocks and prisons
for political prisoners, in which they might be held in solitary confinement
for months at a time. Another credible source reported that high-ranking
leaders of the illegal An-Nahdha Islamist movement have been held in
solitary confinement since 1991. Other sources alleged that political
prisoners regularly were moved among jails throughout the country, thereby
making it more difficult for the prisoners' families to deliver food
to them and to discourage their supporters or the press from inquiring
about them. The 2000 CNLT report alleged that inmates are instructed
to isolate newly arrived political prisoners, and are punished severely
for any contact with them.
Several hunger strikes by prisoners occurred during the year that were
aimed to draw attention to substandard prison conditions or mistreatment,
as well as the denial of privileges. Abdellatif Bouhajila began a hunger
strike in May protesting prison conditions. Sadok Chourou, a former
An-Nahdha member who was sentenced in 1991 for membership in an illegal
organization, began a hunger strike in May protesting his isolated confinement
and the denial of visits by his family. Bechir Abid, a former student
leader, began a hunger strike at the beginning of May to protest the
denial of visits by family members. He was released at the end of May
under conditional parole. He had been sentenced to 18 months in September
2000 for membership in the illegal Tunisian Communist Worker's Party
(PCOT). In August prisoners in Sfax (about 130 miles, and Kairouan about
70 miles south of Tunis) prisons undertook hunger strikes protesting
prison conditions and the mistreatment of political prisoners.
During her six-week detention in the Manouba prison in a suburb of
Tunis, journalist and human rights activist Sihem Bensedrine reported
sharing a cell with 27 others who were detained awaiting sentencing
(see Section 1.d.). In May Abdellatif Bouhajila, who is serving a 17-year
sentence for membership in an illegal organization, protested prison
conditions that he claims are threatening his health. Bouhajila, an
asthmatic with a kidney disorder, was placed in a cell in which most
of the prisoners smoked and has been denied medical attention. In July
after beginning a hunger strike, he was transferred from the 9 Avril
prison in Tunis to Borj Erroumi in Bizerte, 25 miles north of the capital,
effectively ensuring that his aged parents would be precluded from visiting
Former National High Commissioner for Human Rights Rachid Driss, whose
former organization is government-funded, had conducted bimonthly, unannounced
prison inspections since 1996. Although Driss has declared that prison
conditions and prisoner hygiene were "good and improving,"
details of his inspections were not made public. Zakaria Ben Mustapha
replaced Driss in December 2000.
The Government appears to be attempting some prison reform. One significant
change was the transfer of authority for the prison system from the
Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice in January. The Justice
Ministry made a public commitment to improve prison conditions; however,
no discernible changes had been made by year's end. A similar change
in oversight of the parole system took place in July.
The Government does not permit international organizations or the media
to inspect or monitor prison conditions. The LTDH announced in a 1999
communique that it had been granted permission to resume prison visits;
however, it made no visits during the year, and the Government's willingness
actually to allow such visits remained uncertain. Due to such restrictions,
the CNLT's 1999 report on prisons remains the authoritative first-hand
account of prison conditions in the country. In April the CNLT reissued
its called for reform of the prison system, citing the systematic torture
and abuse of prisoners and continued lack of basic hygienic conditions
and medical care.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Arbitrary arrest and detention remain problems. The law authorizes
the police to make arrests without warrants in the cases of suspected
felons or crimes in progress. A 1999 Penal Code amendment provides for
a maximum 3-day detention period, renewable once (for a maximum of 6
days) by the prosecutor, thus reducing from 10 days to 6 the period
that the Government may hold a suspect incommunicado following arrest
and prior to arraignment. The 1999 amendments also require arresting
officers to inform detainees of their rights and detainees' families
of the arrest at the time of arrest, and to make a complete record of
the times and dates of such notifications. Credible sources stated that
the new law rarely is enforced with respect to either common criminals
or political detainees. During her detention in the Manouba prison,
journalist and human rights activist Sihem Bensedrine reported that
she and 27 others were detained for 6 weeks awaiting sentencing (see
Section 1.c.). Detainees have the right to be informed of the grounds
for arrest before questioning and may request a medical examination.
However, they do not have a right to legal representation during the
6-day incommunicado detention period. Attorneys, human rights monitors,
and former detainees maintain that the authorities illegally extend
the maximum limit of pre-arraignment detention by falsifying the date
of arrest. Credible sources report police extortion of money from families
of innocent detainees in consideration for dropping charges against
Detainees have the right to be represented by counsel during arraignment.
The Government provides legal representation for indigents. At arraignment
the examining magistrate may decide to release the accused or remand
him to pretrial detention. The law permits the release of accused persons
on bail, which may be paid by a third party. In cases involving crimes
for which the sentence exceeds 5 years or that involve national security,
preventive detention may last an initial period of 6 months and be extended
by court order for two additional 4-month periods. For crimes in which
the sentence may not exceed 5 years, the court may extend the initial
6-month pretrial detention by an additional three months only. During
this period, the court conducts an investigation, hears arguments, and
accepts evidence and motions of both parties. The law provides persons
indicted for criminal acts the right to appeal their indictment before
the case comes to trial.
On September 29, police stopped the car of two delegates from Amnesty
International who were in the country to attend the appeal of Moncef
Marzouki (see Section 1.e.). The police assaulted the two delegates,
then detained, and questioned them. They were later released in the
center of Tunis. The police confiscated and did not return a number
of items, including a computer and personal documents.
A case proceeds from investigation to a criminal court, which sets
a trial date. There is no legal limit to the length of time the court
may hold a case over for trial, nor is there a legal basis for a speedy
hearing. Complaints of prolonged detention of persons awaiting trial
were common, and President Ben Ali publicly has encouraged judges to
make better use of release on bail and suspended sentences. Some defendants
have claimed that they have been held in pretrial detention for years.
On June 26, police arrested CNLT member and journalist Sihem Bensedrine
upon her return from an appearance on Al-Mustaquella satellite broadcast
program in London and charged her with defamation of a judge and spreading
false information aimed at undermining the public order. The charges
stemmed from comments Bensedrine made on the program alleging corruption
in the Government, prison torture, and executive control of the judiciary.
She quoted a sitting judge, Jedidi Ghenya, as declaring in court that
everyone who appears before him is guilty until they prove their innocence,
despite the fact that the Constitution provides for the presumption
of innocence until the legal establishment of guilt. The press reported
that the Government denied visits to Bensedrine by international human
rights observers. Credible legal sources reported that Bensedrine was
subjected to humiliating physical searches after each visit by her lawyer.
She was conditionally released from prison on August 11 as part of a
broader amnesty, but she may still be subject to judicial proceedings.
In June Mohammed Moaada, former secretary general of the Democratic
Socialist Movement (MDS) opposition party, was arrested for violating
the conditions of his parole. Precise charges were not publicly specified.
However, prior to his arrest he had appeared on Al Mustaquella criticizing
the Government. The Government also denied visits to Moaada by international
human rights observers. Moaada first was arrested in 1995, ostensibly
for espionage, tried, and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Human rights
activists claim his original arrest was the result of an open letter
that he published that was critical of the Government. His June arrest
occurred after a conditional parole of 41/2 years.
In October the CNLT reported that more than two dozen former political
prisoners were detained arbitrarily in Bizerte in what appeared to be
a political sweep in anticipation of the October 15 arrival in Bizerte
of President Ben Ali for the commemoration of a military holiday. They
were believed to have been released after the President's visit.
On November 2, police detained several UGET students in connection
with a rally and sit-in that the students were holding to protest beatings
by RCD student members, university police and security forces (see Section
Human rights activists reported that security forces arbitrarily imposed
administrative controls on former prisoners following their release
from prison. Although the Penal Code contains provisions for the imposition
of administrative controls following completion of a prison sentence,
only judges have the right to order a former prisoner to register at
a police station, and the law limits registration requirements to 5
years. Human rights activists allege that these requirements often are
unreasonable and prevent former prisoners from being able to hold a
job. Defense attorneys reported that some clients must sign in four
or five times daily, at times that are determined only the previous
evening. When the clients arrive at the police station, they may be
forced to wait hours before signing in, making employment impossible
and childcare difficult. Numerous Islamists released from prison in
recent years have been subjected to these types of requirements. Hedi
Bejaoui has been under administrative control since 1990. Benjaoui was
arrested and released in 1990 for membership in An-Nahdha. In May he
began a hunger strike in May that lasted 6 weeks to protest his administrative
control and the seizure of his passport. Bejaoui attempted to travel
abroad for medical treatment because his medical insurance card had
been taken from him by the authorities (see Section 2.d.).
A court that was created in 1999 to oversee the proper administration
of sentences began functioning in September 2000. The law allows judges
to substitute community service for jail sentences in minor cases in
which the sentence would be 6 months or less. There is no evidence that
this alternative has been applied in political cases.
There are reports of hundreds of political detainees, although there
is no reliable estimate due to arbitrary government detention practices
and the lack of publicly available records of arrests. The Government
denies arresting persons for political crimes. Rather, it relies on
a variety of broad or vague provisions in the Penal Code, including
against "spreading false information aimed at undermining the public
order," and "belonging to an illegal organization," to
arrest and charge political opponents, human rights activists, and Islamists,
Judges and the Government exercised the authority to release prisoners
or suspend their sentences, often on conditional parole. For instance,
human rights lawyer Nejib Hosni received a presidential pardon in May
after serving 41/2 months for violating his conditional parole by practicing
law. Hosni originally was arrested in 1996 and sentenced to 8 years
for what human rights observers claim was a spurious charge of defrauding
a client. He was released in 1997 on the condition he not practice law
for 5 years. He was arrested again in December 2000, and ordered to
serve the remainder of his original sentence plus 15 days. The Tunisian
Bar Association came to his defense, claiming that only it has the authority
to disbar lawyers. Hosni continues to practice law, despite the Government's
ban and represents several human rights defendants.
At the end of May, Bechir Abid was released on conditional parole from
prison after eight months. He was serving an 18-month sentence for membership
in an illegal organization (PCOT) and had begun a second hunger strike
on May 8 protesting the denial of visits by his family and lawyers.
His previous hunger strike lasted from October 18 to December 5, 2000.
Haroun Mbarek, a member of the outlawed Islamic group An-Nahdha, also
was released from prison in May on conditional parole. Mbarek had been
deported by Canadian authorities in January after his application for
refugee status there was denied. He was arrested upon his return to
Tunisia after having been sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison
for membership in an illegal organization. He was tortured in prison,
and contracted tuberculosis as a result of his detention. His passport
eventually was returned to him and, in September, Mbarek was granted
permission from Canadian authorities to return to Canada. Sihem Bensedrine
also was released on conditional parole on August 11, as part of a presidential
amnesty that coincided with the Women's Day holiday (see Section 1.c.).
The Constitution prohibits forced exile, and the Government observes
this prohibition. According to reliable sources, some political opponents
in self-imposed exile have been prevented from obtaining or renewing
their passports in order to return. In June 2000, a Government official
stated that the Government had returned 200 passports and would return
another 600 of citizens living abroad, many of whom have been without
a passport for years (see Section 2.d.).
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the
executive branch and the President strongly influence the judiciary.
In practice the judicial branch is part of the Ministry of Justice:
the executive branch appoints, assigns, grants tenure to, and transfers
judges. In addition, the President is head of the Supreme Council of
Judges. This renders judges susceptible to pressure in politically sensitive
The court system consists of the regular civil and criminal courts,
including the courts of first instance; the courts of appeal; and the
Court of Cassation, the nation's highest appeals court; as well as the
military tribunals within the Defense Ministry.
Military tribunals try cases involving military personnel and civilians
accused of national security crimes. A military tribunal consists of
a civilian judge from the Supreme Court and four military judges. Defendants
may appeal the tribunal's verdict to the final arbiter, the Court of
Cassation, which considers arguments on points of law as opposed to
the facts of a case. Amnesty International has claimed that citizens
charged under the tribunals "have been denied basic rights during
the judicial process."
The Code of Procedure is patterned after the French legal system. By
law the accused has the right to be present at trial, be represented
by counsel, question witnesses, and appeal verdicts. However, in practice
judges do not always observe these rights. The law permits trial in
absentia of fugitives from the law. Both the accused and the prosecutor
may appeal decisions of the lower courts. Defendants may request a different
judge if they believe that a judge is not impartial; however, in practice
judges do not always permit this. For example, lawyers for Nejib Hosni,
who was convicted in December 2000 for violating a court-ordered 5-year
suspension from practicing law, requested that the trial judge recuse
himself because, attorneys claimed, he no longer was impartial because
he already had found Hosni in violation of the court order the week
before. The judge refused the defense's request. A sitting judge, Jedidi
Ghenya, was quoted as declaring in court that everyone who appears before
him is guilty until they prove their innocence, despite the fact that
the Constitution provides for the presumption of innocence until the
legal establishment of guilt.
Trials in the regular courts of first instance and in the courts of
appeals are open to the public. The presiding judge or panel of judges
dominates a trial, and defense attorneys have little opportunity to
participate substantively. Defense lawyers contend that the courts often
fail to grant them adequate notice of trial dates or allow them time
to prepare their cases. Some also reported that judges restricted access
to evidence and court records, requiring in some cases, for example,
that all attorneys of record examine the court record on one specified
date in judges' chambers, without allowing attorneys to copy material
documents. Defense lawyers also claim that judges sometimes refuse to
allow them to call witnesses on their clients' behalf or to question
key government witnesses. Lengthy trial delays are also a problem (see
Human rights activists contend that the judicial system is neither
free nor fair and that it applies the law unevenly to defendants facing
politically motivated charges. Some have refused to participate in their
own legal proceedings. For instance, Moncef Marzouki, former spokesman
of the CNLT, boycotted June and July hearings in the Court of Appeal
scheduled to review his December 2000 conviction. He was sentenced to
1 year in prison for membership in an unauthorized organization and
for spreading false information. Marzouki refuses to recognize the authority
of the court over what he regards as a freedom of speech issue and consequently
has refused to participate in the appeal process. The prosecution appealed
on his behalf and on September 29, the appeals court suspended the 1-year
sentence. There were no developments in the Government's investigation
into the 1999 charges brought against Marzouki, and a trial had not
begun by year's end (see Section 4).
In July at Sihem Bensdrine's initial hearing after her arrest she refused
to answer charges without her lawyers present. Over 200 lawyers had
joined her defense team and could not be accommodated in the judge's
chambers. The lawyers' request for Benedrine's unconditional release
was in effect refused by the judge, who took no action within the 2
days required by law.
The civil case against the LTDH concluded during the year. At the end
of 2000, the Court of First Instance annulled the League's October 2000
board elections based on claims from four plaintiffs who alleged irregularities
in the election procedure. The Government closed the League's headquarters
in November 2000 and replaced its board with an administrator pending
a January hearing. The court found in favor of the plaintiffs and the
LTDH appealed the verdict. After months of delays and additional hearings,
on June 21, the court of appeal upheld the lower court's annulment of
the League's October 2000 board and gave the same board responsibility
for operating the LTDH for a year and organizing new elections to the
board. In July the LTDH leadership resumed activities in its offices
and resumed many of its normal activities. However, LTDH activists continued
to report government harassment, interrogation, and property loss or
damage. In previous years, the LTDH had reported unauthorized home entries
and denial of passports.
Throughout the year, the Government permitted observers from diplomatic
missions, members of the European Parliament, and foreign journalists
to monitor trials, while selectively barring other observers from human
rights organizations from entering the country (see Section 4). Amnesty
International and defense attorneys report that courts routinely fail
to investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment, and have accepted
as evidence confessions extracted under torture (see Section 1.c.).
Defense lawyers and human rights activists claim that the summary nature
of court sessions sometimes prevents reasoned deliberation. They also
claim that erratic court schedules and procedures are designed to deter
and discourage observers of political trials.
In July District Judge Mokhtar Yahiaoui published an open letter to
President Ben Ali on the Internet charging executive branch interference
in the judiciary. Among his allegations was that the Government intimidates
and harasses judges, who, he noted, were dependent on the President
for promotions and job stability. Yahiaoui, who belonged to the body
that recommends magistrates for placement and promotion, was suspended
without pay on July 14. His claims that the judiciary was not independent
and the Government's reaction to the criticism drew considerable attention
both within the country and abroad. The Tunisian Judges' Association
published a communique on July 18 in cautious support of Yahiaoui, noting
that the preferred forum for his criticisms would have been within the
Association. On August 2, the Government restored him to his position
after a disciplinary hearing. On December 29, Yahiaoui appeared before
a disciplinary council of magistrates, which dismissed him as a judge
and charged him with having "attacked the honor of judges and failed
in his professional duties."
There is no definitive information regarding the number of political
prisoners. Human Rights Watch has reported that there might be hundreds
of political prisoners convicted and imprisoned for membership in the
Islamist group An-Nadha and the PCOT, for disseminating information
produced by these banned organizations, and for aiding relatives of
convicted members. Amnesty International estimated in September that
there were up to 1,000 political prisoners. Nearly all those prisoners
that have been identified by international human rights groups as political
prisoners or prisoners of conscience have been arrested or detained
under articles of the Penal or Press Codes prohibiting membership in
illegal organizations or spreading false information aimed at undermining
the public order.
The Government traditionally releases prisoners on national holidays,
such as Independence Day or on the anniversary of President Ben Ali's
accession to power. On June 26, national and international human rights
groups called on the Government to issue a general amnesty for all political
prisoners. In July political opposition parties and the Tunisian General
Confederation of Labor (UGTT) joined in calling for a general amnesty.
In addition, during a July 3 parliamentary debate, opposition members
joined with human rights groups in calling on the Minister of Justice
to offer a general amnesty for political prisoners. They argued that
the executive branch should not be using the justice system for political
The Government denies that it holds any prisoners considered "political,"
and normally does not provide details on the numbers or types of prisoners
released. One amnesty issued on Republic Day (July 25) benefited mostly
criminals. A second summer amnesty announced for Women's Day (August
13) was noteworthy, in that for the first time, the Government named
an individual prisoner (Sihem Bensedrine) who had been released.
The Government does not permit international humanitarian organizations
to visit prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
has regularly been denied access to prisons.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the person, the
home, and for the privacy of correspondence, "except in exceptional
cases defined by law." However, the Government infringed on these
rights. The law requires that the police obtain warrants to conduct
searches; however, police sometimes ignore the requirement if authorities
consider that state security is at stake or that a crime is in progress.
The Government allegedly breaks into and ransacks the homes and offices
of human rights activists and opposition figures. On October 26, the
private law offices of the president of the Tunisian Bar, Bechir Essid,
were broken into and ransacked. Observers speculate the incident was
designed as a warning by the Government to Essid, who represented dissident
Mohammed Moaada (see Section 4).
RAID reported that the houses of two of its members, Fathi Chamkhi
and Sadri Khiari, were broken into and vandalized on December 28 and
Authorities may invoke state security interests to justify telephone
surveillance. There were numerous reports of government interception
of fax and computer-transmitted communications. The law does not authorize
explicitly these activities, although the Government has stated that
the Code of Criminal Procedure implicitly gives investigating magistrates
such authority. Many political activists experience frequent and sometimes
extended interruptions of residential and business telephone and fax
services. Human rights activists accuse the Government of using the
1998 Postal Code, with its broad but undefined prohibition against mail
that threatens the public order, to interfere with their mail and interrupt
the delivery of foreign publications. Local phone, fax, and copy shops
require users to turn over their identification cards when requesting
to send faxes.
Lawyers and activists stated in 2000 that the Government increased
its practice of cutting off telephone service to activists. However,
during the year, there were no reports that prominent human rights activists
had telephone service cut off for extended periods, although there were
reports of the temporary disruption of cellular and landline service
to prominent human rights and opposition leaders during the call-in
portion of the Al-Mustaquella television program each Sunday afternoon
(see Section 2.a.).
The security forces routinely monitor the activities of political critics,
and sometimes harass, follow, question, assault or otherwise intimidate
them, their relatives, and associates. Security forces continue to harass,
assault and intimidate members of the CNLT (see Sections 1.c, 2.b, and
4). For example, police place journalists who write articles critical
of the Government, or who are active in human rights organizations,
under surveillance (see Section 2.a.).
Human rights activists, lawyers, and other political activists also
reported that they were under police surveillance. For example, police
continued their heavy surveillance of the CNLT offices in Tunis (see
Sections 2.b. and 4). In July Moncef Marzouki reported that he was under
constant police observation and that his movements between Tunis and
his home in Sousse (120 miles south of the capital) drew particularly
heavy surveillance. Human rights lawyer Radhia Nasraoui continues to
be under heavy police surveillance.
Human rights activists claimed that the Government subjected the family
members of Islamist activists to arbitrary arrest, reportedly utilizing
charges of "association with criminal elements" to punish
family members for alleged crimes committed by the activists. For example,
one female medical doctor claimed that she has been unemployed since
1997 because police pressure hospitals not to hire her because her husband
was convicted of membership in An-Nahda. One man claimed that for 8
years, the Government refused to issue him a passport because his brother
was prosecuted for membership in An-Nahda. Credible reports indicate
that police harassed Sihem Bensedrine's family after her June appearance
on Al-Mustaquella. Human rights activists also alleged that the relatives
of Islamist activists who are in jail or living abroad were subjected
to police surveillance and mandatory visits to police stations to report
their contact with relatives. The Government maintained that the Islamists'
relatives were members or associates of the outlawed An-Nahdha movement
and that they were correctly subjected to legitimate laws prohibiting
membership in or association with that organization.
There were no reports during the year of the Government refusing to
issue passports to family members of human rights activists. Nejib Hosni
and his family members no longer are being denied their passports.
Human rights activists allege that security forces arbitrarily imposed
administrative controls on prisoners following their release from prison
(see Section 1.d.) and confiscated national identity cards from numerous
former prisoners. Confiscation of an identity card makes nearly every
aspect of civil and administrative life difficult. An individual must
have an identity card to sign a lease, to buy or drive a car, to receive
access to healthcare, bank accounts, and pensions, and even to join
a sports club. Police may stop anyone at anytime and ask for their identity
card. If individuals are unable to produce cards, police may detain
them until their identity can be established by a central fingerprint
database. A credible source claimed in 2000 that the Government confiscated
the national identity cards of as many as 10,000 persons who were either
former prisoners convicted of membership in An-Nahda or relatives of
An-Nadha members and their supporters.
Police presence is heavy throughout the country and traffic officers
routinely stop motorists for no apparent reason to examine their personal
identification and vehicular documents (see Section 2.d.). The Government
regularly prohibited the distribution of some foreign publications (see
Section 2.a.). The security forces often question citizens seen talking
with foreign visitors or residents, particularly visiting international
human rights monitors and journalists (see Section 2.a.).
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press;
however, in practice, the Government restricts these rights. The Government
relies upon direct and indirect methods to restrict press freedom and
encourage a high degree of self-censorship. The Government also uses
the Press Code, which contains broad provisions prohibiting subversion
and defamation, to prosecute individuals who express dissenting opinions.
In a speech before the RCD in July, President Ben Ali stated that although
the Government must protect the right of citizens to hold dissenting
opinions, those citizens who criticize the country in the international
media were "traitors" who would be prosecuted to the full
extent of the law. While direct criticism of Government policies or
officials is restricted, either directly or through self-censorship,
there have been increased discussions in the press of sensitive democracy
and human rights problems.
In April the Chamber of Deputies approved several changes to the Press
Code. Changes included the designation of the Ministry of Human Rights,
Communications, and Relations with the Chamber of Deputies as the central
censorship office. Previously, all publications had to be approved in
advance by several ministries. The revisions provided that copies of
newspapers published outside of Tunis could now be deposited with local
governors rather than at central Tunis offices. Newspapers are required
to raise the percentage of journalists drawn from the Institute of Journalism
(IPSI) on their editorial staff from 30 percent to 50 percent. Offenses
such as "rumor mongering" and the delivery of "seditious
speeches and songs in public places and meetings" were transferred
to the Penal Code. The offense of sending defamatory mail was transferred
to the Postal Services Code. The amended Press Code replaces prison
sentences with increased fines as the penalty for fraudulent use of
one's name for publishing purposes. It also reduced the period of time
the Government may suspend a newspaper's publication from 6 to 3 months.
Opposition members and international observers view the changes to the
Press Code as largely superficial--designed to give the appearance of
liberalization while only making minor cosmetic changes.
The Government detains, interrogates, and otherwise harasses local
and international human rights activists (see Sections 1.c, 2.a., and
4). Charges brought against Dr. Moncef Marzouki in November and December
1999 for defamation, belonging to an unrecognized organization, causing
a public disturbance, and disseminating false information, arising out
of Marzouki's publication and distribution of two communiques on behalf
of the CNLT, proceeded in June on an appeal filed on Marzouki's behalf
by the prosecution. Marzouki refused to appear at the June and subsequent
July hearing before the Court of Appeal (see Sections 1.e. and 4).
In November journalist Taoufik Ben Brik claimed that his wife's car
had been vandalized and his telephone lines cut after he returned to
Tunis from Paris where he had promoted a new book critical of the Government.
Also in November police interviewed businessman Kamel El-Taief shortly
after his return from Paris, where he had given an interview to Le Monde
in which he charged the Government with corruption and the harassment
of dissidents. El-Taief was charged with insulting a police officer
after a street altercation with an officer after El-Taief returned to
his automobile and found that it had been vandalized. He was released
on November 16, after 10 days in jail and his trial began on December
26. A verdict was expected in January 2002.
Credible press reports indicated that in November, journalist Fethia
El Beji was fired from her position at As-Sabah newapaper for articles
she wrote in the weekly magazine Sabah El-Khir regarding two of Taoufik
Ben Brik's books that were scheduled for publication.
Although several independent newspapers and magazines--including several
opposition party journals--exist, the Government relies upon direct
and indirect methods to restrict press freedom and encourage a high
degree of self-censorship. Primary among these methods is "depot
legal," the requirement that printers and publishers provide copies
of all publications to the Ministry of Human Rights, Communications,
and Relations with the Chamber of Deputies prior to distribution. The
opposition Democratic Progressive Party (PDP) claimed that in January
and August copies of its Al-Mawqif newspaper were removed from newsstands
because they contained an article critical of the Government. Publication
of the Al-Mawkif newspaper was delayed on several occasions. The Government
has not permitted the Tunisian Bar Association to publish its internal
bulletin since July 1999.
Since 1994 the Government has refused to allow Amnesty International's
Tunisia chapter to distribute textbooks on human rights written for
high school students.
Similarly, distributors must deposit copies of publications printed
abroad with the Chief Prosecutor and the Ministry of Human Rights, Communications,
and Relations with the Chamber of Deputies prior to their public release.
While publishers need not wait for an authorization, they must obtain
a receipt of deposit before distribution. On occasion such receipts
reportedly are withheld, sometimes indefinitely. Without a receipt,
publications may not be distributed legally. An April edition of Le
Monde and an October edition of Le Monde Diplomatique were delayed because
of articles on human rights in the country.
The Press Code contains broad provisions prohibiting subversion and
defamation, neither of which is defined clearly. The code stipulates
fines and confiscation for failure to comply with these provisions.
The Government routinely utilized this method to prevent distribution
of editions of foreign newspapers and magazines that contained articles
critical of the country. For example, issues of Jeune Afrique were banned
throughout the year and issues of Le Monde were banned in January, April
The Government also reportedly withheld depot legal to remove from
circulation books that it deemed critical of the Government. There were
no reports that the Government provided official texts on major domestic
and international events and reprimanded publishers and editors who
failed to publish these statements, as had occurred in the past.
The Government also relies on indirect methods, such as newsprint subsidies
and control of public advertising revenues, to encourage self-censorship
in the media. The Tunisian Agency for External Communications effectively
serves as a censor by selectively withholding advertising funds. There
were credible reports that the Government withheld advertising orders,
a vital source of revenues, from publications that published articles
deemed offensive by the Government. The Democratic Progressive Party
(PDP) opposition party newspaper Al-Mawkif received no public advertising
revenue during the year and announced on December 14 that it may have
to close due to financial problems. It receives no public funds and
survived through subscriptions and donations.
The Government exerted further control over the media by threatening
to impose restrictions on journalists, such as refusing permission to
travel abroad, withholding press credentials, and imposing police surveillance
on those who wrote articles critical of the Government. In June activist
Sihem Bensedrine was arrested and spent 6 weeks in prison for comments
she made that were critical of the Government (see Section 1.d.).
Members of the security forces also reportedly questioned journalists
regarding the nature of press conferences and other public functions
hosted by foreigners that the journalists attended.
There were no results during the year of the Government's investigation
into the May 2000 shooting of Le Monde journalist Riadh Ben Fadhl. Ben
Fadhl was shot twice in the shoulder at 6 a.m., the morning after he
published an article in Le Monde that was critical of President Ben
Ali. Several journalists from Al-Fajr, the publication associated with
the outlawed An-Nahda movement, remained in jail, serving sentences
that were imposed in the early 1990's. The Government maintains that
the arrests, indictments, and convictions were carried out in full accordance
with the law. Visiting foreign journalists sometimes complain of being
followed by security officials. On February 3, RSF journalist Robert
Menard was deported for disturbing the public order by distributing
On May 3, for the fourth year in a row, the Committee to Protect Journalists
named President Ben Ali as 1 of its "10 worst enemies of the press."
In 2000 RSF stated that "journalists have adopted a habit of self-censorship
and those who venture to be independent pay a high price." During
the year, RSF named Ben Ali as 1 of "39 Predators of Press Freedom."
The Tunisian Newspaper Association remained expelled from the World
Association of Newspapers (WAN). The WAN expelled the Association in
1997 for its failure to oppose repression of freedom of the press.
The Government owns and operates the Tunisian Radio and Television
Establishment (ERTT). The ERTT's coverage of government news is taken
directly from the official news agency, TAP. There are several government-owned
regional radio stations and one national television channel. A bilateral
agreement with Italy permits citizens to receive the Italian television
station RAI-UNO; the broadcast of French television station France 2
has remained suspended since October 1999 because of its critical coverage
of the elections. Recent estimates place the number of satellite dishes
(which have been legal since 1996) in the country at well over 200,000.
The Government regulates their sale and installation. Many citizens
receive two satellite programs broadcast from London by members of the
opposition: Al-Mustaquella, which began broadcasting in April; and Zeitouna,
which began broadcasting in July. The programs serve as alternative
sources for news and political dissent both through their satellite
transmissions and Zeitouna's web site.
A sitting judge, Jedidi Ghenya, lodged two complaints against Al-Mustaquella
with the Independent Television Commission (ITC), a body in the United
Kingdom responsible for regulating private broadcasting. In August Ghenya
alleged that remarks made by journalist Sihem Bensedrine on the June
16 program had libeled him (see Section 1.d.). The ITC rejected the
claim. On December 17, another complaint was lodged against Al-Mustaquella
with the ITC for remarks made on the December 2 broadcast of Al-Mustaquella's
Espace Francophone program relating to Bensedrine's original remarks.
Human rights activists believe the Tunisian Government, in an attempt
to have Al-Mustaquella sanctioned or discredited, coerced Ghenya to
file these complaints.
The Government encouraged greater use of the Internet and lowered Internet
user fees and telephone connection fees again during the year. Journalists
and students are entitled to a 25 percent reduction in Internet usage
fees. There are no customs duties on computers. By September 1, the
Government reported that there were 365,000 subscribers (10 times the
number reported in 2000), and the Government estimates the figure will
climb to 3 million by 2004. The Government used the Internet widely,
with most government ministries and agencies posting information on
readily accessible web sites. However, Web sites and on-line publications
containing information critical of the Government posted by international
NGO's opposition parties, and foreign governments frequently are blocked,
including a report on Internet use in Tunisia by Human Rights Watch.
The five Internet service providers in the country remain under the
control of the Tunisian Internet Agency, which was created in 1996 and
which regularly must provide lists of subscribers to the Government.
Human rights activists allege that the agency regularly interferes with
and intercepts their Internet communications. The Press Code, including
the requirement that advance copies of publications be provided to the
Government, applies to information shared on the Internet (see Section
The Government limits academic freedom. Like journalists, university
professors indicated that they sometimes practiced self-censorship by
avoiding classroom criticism of the Government or statements supportive
of the An-Nahdha movement. Professors alleged that the Government utilized
the threat of tax audits, control over university positions, and strict
publishing rules to encourage self-censorship. The presence of police
on campuses also discouraged dissent. A 1996 regulation requires professors
to inform the Ministry of Higher Education in advance of any seminars,
including the list of participants and subjects to be addressed. Copies
of papers to be presented in university settings or seminars must be
provided to the Ministry in advance.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, the Government
imposes some restrictions on this right. Groups that wish to hold a
public meeting, rally, or march must obtain a permit from the Ministry
of Interior by applying no later than three days in advance of the proposed
event and submitting a list of participants. The authorities routinely
approve such permits for groups that support government positions, but
often refuse permission for groups that express dissenting views.
The civil case against the LTDH concluded during the year. At the end
of 2000, the Court of First Instance annulled the League's October 2000
board elections based on claims from four plaintiffs alleging irregularities
in the election procedure. The Government closed the League's headquarters
in November 2000 and replaced its board with an administrator pending
a January hearing. The court found in favor of the plaintiffs and the
LTDH appealed the verdict. After months of delays and additional hearings,
on June 21, the court of appeal upheld the lower court's annulment of
the League's October 2000 board and gave the same board responsibility
for operating the LTDH for a year and organizing new elections to the
board. In July the LTDH leadership resumed activities in its offices
and resumed many of its normal activities. However, LTDH activists continued
to report government harassment, interrogation, property loss or damage,
unauthorized home entry, and denial of passports.
CNLT members claimed in March that plainclothes police prevented persons
from attending a CNLT meeting and reception at the Tunis publishing
office founded by Sihem Bensedrine. The CNLT reported that several of
their members were beaten by police who called them "traitors."
CNLT member Khadija Cherif described how police blocked her car as she
attempted to drive to the reception. The police instructed her to leave;
however, when she turned the car around 10 police officers surrounded
the car, shouted at her, kicked the car, and beat her on the head, neck,
and chest. She indicated that this physical violence was accompanied
by obscenities and vulgarities, and that it took place in the presence
of the police commander of the Medina district, who did nothing to prevent
it. When Cherif appeared in court on March 10 to file a complaint against
the assaulting police officers, she was assaulted physically again by
plainclothesmen as she left the courthouse. The officers pushed her
to the ground when she refused to hand over a folder containing evidence
of the original assault, including photographs of police surrounding
her car. Minister of Human Rights, Communications, and Relations with
the Chamber of Deputies Slaheddine Maaoui announced publicly in April
that the police agent who was responsible for Cherif's assault had been
suspended and punished. Maaoui did not specify what punishment the agent
In August less than a week after Sihem Bensedrine's release from prison,
police assaulted her and other activists outside the publishing house
of which Bensedrine is director. The activists were attempting to attend
a meeting in the publishing house that police had prohibited. Police
beat several activists severely with batons; subsequently, they were
hospitalized. Credible reports indicated the police in particular brutally
assaulted Bensedrine's husband and CNLT leader Omar Mestiri, as well
as Fatma Ksila and other active human rights leaders.
On September 6, dozens of plainclothes police surrounded the CNLT headquarters,
barring entry to any visitors who did not reside or work in the building.
Credible reports indicated that several prominent human rights activists
were denied access to the CNLT offices while others were assaulted by
police. CNLT member Omar Mestiri was detained and released later in
a wooded part of Tunis by men who denied they were members of the police
force. In early November, RCD student members, university police, and
security forces beat members of the UGET to prevent them from engaging
in a rally and sit-in (see Section 1.c.).
The Government permitted some demonstrations to occur. A demonstration
of human rights and civil society groups at Manouba prison in support
of Sihem Bensedrine and Mohammed Moaada took place on July 27. The peaceful
protest organized by the ATFD called for the release of Bensedrine and
Moaada. While the police presence was strong, the demonstration was
allowed to take place without incident. On July 5, at the first arraignment
hearing for Sihem Bensedrine after her arrest, a number of her supporters
appeared at the court and were allowed into the corridors of the courthouse.
Many handed out photocopied photos of Bensedrine captioned "Free
Sihem Bensedrine." Some attempted to paste these signs inside the
courthouse in the presence of police who removed them without further
incident. By the afternoon, dozens of Bensedrine's supporters had come
to the courthouse and were dispersed peacefully by police. In August
several participants attempting to attend a meeting at the publishing
house of Sihem Bensedrine were beaten severely by police and dispersed
(see Section 1.f.).
The Government at times organizes its own demonstrations for political
ends. On June 29, in what human rights observers and diplomats regarded
as a government-orchestrated event, about 200 demonstrators protested
in front of the downtown Tunis offices of Air France. The demonstration
was designed to express national outrage at the brief occupation of
the Paris office of the Tunisian National Tourist Bureau by the French
NGO RSF. The Paris protest, led by RSF secretary general Robert Menard,
called on the Tunisian Government to release activist Sihem Bensedrine.
Although the Constitution provides for freedom of association, the
Government restricts this right by barring membership in political parties
organized by religion, race, or region of origin. On these grounds,
the Government prosecutes members of the Islamist movement An-Nahdha.
For example, Mehdi Zoughah was convicted in February of belonging to
an illegal organization for purportedly holding a meeting in the early
1990's in Marseille with An-Nahda leader Salah Kerker. Zoughah was convicted
on the basis of a single witness whom the Government could not produce
in court. Haroun M'barak was convicted in March of belonging to an illegal
organization, An-Nahda, on the basis of a statement by a witness that
had been retracted.
In some cases, several years lapse after detention and before the defendants
are brought to trial. Twenty alleged An-Nadha members were tried before
the criminal court on April 17 after nearly 4 years in detention. Among
them were Ahmed Laamari, Yousef Khedri, and Chokri Gargouri. All the
defendants were found guilty of membership in An-Nahdha and sentenced
to between 3 and 8 years in prison. Mohamed Ben Boubaker Mejnoun was
sentenced to 5 years in prison, although his name did not appear on
the prosecutor's initial charge sheet. Presiding judges in trials of
Islamists routinely refuse to investigate claims that their confessions
were extracted under torture. Human rights activists alleged that the
Government extended its prosecution of Islamist activists to include
family members who were not politically active (see Sections 1.c., 1.d.,
The Government bans organizations that threaten disruption of the public
order and has used this proscription to prosecute members of the PCOT.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for the free exercise of other religions
that do not disturb the public order, and the Government generally observes
and enforces this right; however, it does not permit political parties
based on religion, prohibits proselytizing, and partially limits the
religious freedom of Baha'is. Islam is the state religion. The Constitution
stipulates that the President must be a Muslim.
The Government recognizes all Christian and Jewish religious organizations
that were established before independence in 1956. Although the Government
permits Christian churches to operate freely, only the Catholic Church
has formal recognition from the post-independence Government. The other
churches operate under land grants signed by the Bey of Tunis in the
18th and 19th centuries, which are respected by the post-independence
Government. Since October 1999, the Government has not acted on a request
for recognition of a Jewish religious organization in Jerba; however,
the group has been permitted to operate and it performs religious activities
and charitable work unhindered.
The Government controls and subsidizes mosques and pays the salaries
of prayer leaders. The President appoints the Grand Mufti of the Republic.
The 1988 Law on Mosques provides that only personnel appointed by the
Government may lead activities in mosques and stipulates that mosques
must remain closed except during prayer times and other authorized religious
ceremonies, such as marriages or funerals. New mosques may be built
in accordance with national urban planning regulations but become the
property of the State.
The Government does not permit the establishment of political parties
on the basis of religion, and uses this prohibition to refuse recognition
of the An-Nahda party and to prosecute suspected party members on the
grounds of membership in an illegal organization (see Sections 1.c,
1.d., 1.e., and 2.b.). The Government maintains tight surveillance over
Islamists and members of the Islamic fundamentalist community. The Government
has revoked the identity cards of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Islamists
and fundamentalists, which seriously disadvantages them (see Section
According to reliable sources, the Government has refused to issue
passports to Islamists and fundamentalists. The Government forbids the
wearing of the hijab (traditional headscarves worn by Islamist and Islamic
fundamentalist women) in government offices. According to human rights
lawyers, the Government regularly questioned Muslims who were observed
praying frequently in mosques. Reliable sources report that the authorities
instruct imams to espouse government social and economic programs during
prayer times in mosques.
The Government allows the Jewish community freedom of worship and pays
the salary of the Grand Rabbi. It also partially subsidizes restoration
and maintenance costs for some synagogues. In October 1999, the Jewish
community elected a new board of directors, its first since independence
in 1956, but continues to await its approval from the governor of Tunis.
Once approval is obtained from the governor, which originally was expected
to be a formality, the organization is expected to receive permanent
status. The acting board has changed its name to the Jewish Committee
of Tunisia. The Government permits the Jewish community to operate private
religious schools and allows Jewish children on the island of Jerba
to divide their academic day between secular public schools and private
religious schools. The Government also encourages Jewish expatriates
to return for the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the historic El-Ghriba
Synagogue on the island of Jerba. An international Jewish relief organization
made trips to Tunisia in July and November and reported no interference
with its activities.
The Government regards the Baha'i faith as a heretical sect of Islam
and permits its adherents to practice their faith only in private. Although
the Government permits Baha'is to hold meetings of their National Council
in private homes, it reportedly has prohibited them from organizing
local councils. The Government reportedly pressures Baha'is to avoid
organized religious activities. There are credible reports that the
police periodically call in prominent Baha'is for questioning; however,
the number of such incidents decreased during the year. The Government
also unofficially denied Baha'i requests during the year for permission
to elect local assemblies. The Government does not permit Baha'is to
accept a declaration of faith from persons who wish to convert to the
Baha'i faith. There were credible reports that four members of the Baha'i
faith were interrogated by Ministry of Interior officials in 1999 and
pressed to sign a statement that they would not practice their religion
and would not hold meetings in their homes.
In general the Government does not permit Christian groups to establish
new churches, and proselytizing is viewed as an act against the public
order. Foreign missionary organizations and groups operate but are not
permitted to proselytize in the country. Authorities deport foreigners
suspected of proselytizing and do not permit them to return. There were
no reported cases of official action against persons suspected of proselytizing
during the year; however, there were reports in April that materials
distributed by Christian missionaries in Sfax were confiscated from
local secondary students.
Islamic religious education is mandatory in public schools; however,
the religious curriculum for secondary school students also includes
the histories of Judaism and Christianity. The Zeitouna Koranic School
is part of the Government's national university system.
Both religious and secular NGO's are governed by the same law and administrative
regulations on association that impose some restrictions on freedom
of assembly (see Section 2.b.). For example, all NGO's are required
to notify the Government of meetings to be held in public spaces at
least 3 days in advance and to submit lists of all meeting participants
to the Ministry of Interior. There were credible reports in 2000 that
two Christian religious organizations did not attempt to register because
they believed their applications would be rejected, although they were
able to function freely under the auspices of their respective churches.
Neither group believed that it was a victim of religious discrimination.
One group, composed of foreign Christians mostly from Sweden and the
United Kingdom, is active in providing medical and social services in
the town of Kasserine in the west. Despite its ambiguous legal status,
the group (with 15 to 20 members) reports that it has been free to pursue
its social and medical work without interference and states that it
does not believe that it has been subject to religious discrimination.
Religious groups are subjected to the same restrictions on freedom
of speech and the press as secular NGO's. Although Christian groups
reported that they were able to distribute previously approved religious
publications in European languages without difficulty, they claimed
that the Government generally did not approve either publication or
distribution of Arabic-language Christian material. Moreover, authorized
distribution of religious publications was limited to existing religious
communities, because the Government views public distribution of both
religious and secular documents as a threat to the public order and
hence an illegal act.
Muslim women are not permitted to marry outside their religion. Marriages
of Muslim women to non-Muslim men abroad are considered common-law,
which are prohibited and thus void when the couple returns to the country.
Non-Muslim women who marry Muslim men are not permitted to inherit from
their husbands, nor may the husbands and any children (who are considered
to be Muslim) from the marriage inherit from the non-Muslim wife.
Although civil law, including family and inheritance law, is codified,
judges are known to override codified law with Islamic law if codified
law conflicts with Shari'a, especially in cases involving child custody.
Generally Shari'a-based civil law is applied only in some family cases.
Some families avoid the application of Shari'a in inheritance questions
by executing sales contracts between parents and children in order to
ensure that daughters receive shares of property equal to that of the
For example, codified laws provide women with the legal right to custody
over minor children; however, judges have refused to grant women permission
to leave the country with minor children, holding that Shari'a appoints
the father as the head of the family who must grant children permission
In court a woman's testimony is worth the same as a man's.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration,
The Constitution provides for these rights, and persons are free to
change their place of residence or work at will; however, in practice
the Government restricts the freedom of movement and foreign travel
of those critical of it.
Amendments to the passport law in October 1998 transferred power for
canceling passports from the Ministry of Interior to the courts; however,
the amended law contains broad provisions that permit passport seizure
on undefined national security grounds and deny citizens the right either
to present their case against seizure or to appeal the judges' decision.
By law the Ministry of Interior must submit requests to seize or withhold
a citizen's passport through the Public Prosecutor to the courts; however,
the Ministry of Interior routinely bypasses the Public Prosecutor to
withhold passports from citizens. Credible reports indicate that the
Public Prosecutor always defers to the Ministry of Interior on such
The Government arbitrarily withholds passports from citizens (see Section
1.f.). According to reliable sources, the Government withholds many
passports of members of the human rights community, including human
rights lawyer Nejib Hosni, and PCOT student Nourredine Ben N'tiche,
as well as many members of the Islamist community. According to credible
sources, some political opponents in self-imposed exile have been prevented
from obtaining or renewing their passports in order to return (see Section
1.d.). In December opposition members in the Chamber of Deputies claimed
that the Government imposes excessive delays in responding to their
applications for passports.
The Government restricts travel during criminal investigations. Credible
reports indicate that in March Moncef Marzouki, although in possession
of a valid passport, was not allowed to travel out of the country from
Monastir. His movements within the country are monitored closely. On
the eve of a visit by French President Chirac and after an open letter
signed by members of the European Parliament was published in support
of Marzouki, the Government lifted Marzouki's travel ban on November
28. He left the country on December 8 to begin working in France.
In June RAID member Sadri Khiari began a hunger strike lasting most
of June to protest his government-imposed travel ban. Khiari had planned
to travel to France to defend a dissertation, but was prohibited from
doing so. The Government claims that Khiari faces two unspecified criminal
charges. The Government restored his passport but has prevented him
from leaving the country. The passport of An-Nadha member Haroun Mbarek
was seized upon his deportation from Canada (see Section 1.d.). Hedi
Bejaoui, another member of An-Nadha, under administrative control since
1990, has been unable to travel for medical treatment due to the Government's
seizure of his passport (see Section 1.d.).
Police routinely stop motorists for no apparent reason to examine their
personal identification and vehicular documents (see Section 1.f.).
The Government cooperates with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) in assisting refugees. The Government acknowledged
the UNHCR's determination of refugee status, which was accorded to 134
individuals during the year. The UNHCR processed 45 applications for
asylum during the year. The Government provides first asylum for refugees
based on UNHCR recommendations. There is no pattern of abuse of refugees.
Although a few refugees were deported during the year, none were forced
to return to countries where they feared persecution. The Constitution
provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status in accordance
with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and
its 1967 Protocol. It also expressly prohibits the extradition of political
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change
The Constitution provides that the citizenry shall elect the President
and members of the legislature for 5-year terms; however, there still
are some significant limitations on citizens' right to change their
government. In October 1999, President Ben Ali was reelected for a third
5-year term in the country's first multi-party presidential elections,
winning 99.44 percent of the vote. According to the Constitution, this
is to be his last term in office; however, in July the ruling RCD party
issued a call for Ben Ali to run for a fourth term. The RCD party won
all 148 directly elected seats in the 1999 legislative elections. Observers
agree that the outcome of the presidential and legislative elections
generally reflected the will of the electorate; however, the campaign
and election processes greatly favored the ruling party and there was
widespread disregard for the secrecy of the ballot. The ruling RCD party
so dominates all levels of political activity that credible electoral
challenges have been extremely difficult. A presidentially appointed
election monitoring group presented a confidential report to the President
regarding the election process, which reportedly substantiated numerous
irregularities alleged by opposition parties.
The RCD party and its direct predecessor parties have controlled the
political arena since independence in 1956. The RCD dominates the Cabinet,
the Chamber of Deputies, and regional and local governments. The President
appoints the Cabinet and the 24 governors. The Government and the party
are integrated closely; the President of the Republic also is the president
of the party, and the party's secretary general holds the rank of minister.
Narrowly written criteria in the Electoral Code greatly restrict the
eligibility of persons to run for president. A candidate must receive
the endorsement of 30 sitting deputies or municipal council presidents
to be eligible to run.
The 182-seat Chamber of Deputies does not function as a counterweight
to the executive branch; rather, it serves as an arena in which the
executive's legislative proposals are debated prior to virtually automatic
approval. Debate within the Chamber is often lively and government ministers
are summoned to respond to deputies' questions, although heated exchanges
critical of government policy are not reported fully in the press. Regardless
of the debate, the Chamber has a history of approving all government
proposals; the Chamber does occasionally modify the proposed legislation.
The Chamber that emerged from the October 1999 parliamentary elections
was more pluralistic than the Chamber in place from 1994 to 1999, as
October 1998 changes in the Electoral Code reserved 20 percent of the
seats for the opposition parties, distributed on a proportional basis
to those parties that did not win directly elected district seats. For
the 1999 elections, the Government provided public financing to political
parties, as called for in legislation adopted in 1997. Under the legislation,
each party represented in the Chamber of Deputies received an annual
public subsidy of approximately $42,000 (60,000 dinars), plus an additional
payment of $3,500 (5,000 dinars) per deputy. The Government also provided
campaign financing that corresponded to the number of district lists
that each party presented. Opposition politicians argued that the subsidy
system reinforces the favored position of the ruling party because its
dominance in the Parliament means that it receives the great majority
of the government funding. Moreover, with funding based on the number
of seats in Parliament, the opposition parties had no interest in forming
coalitions against the RCD, but concentrated instead on competing with
each other for the largest possible share of the 20 percent of seats
reserved for the opposition. During the elections, opposition parties
found independent fundraising impossible, and those that published newspapers
or magazines faced difficulties in obtaining paid advertisers. However,
in June the President announced a 50 percent increase in allowances
given by the Government to opposition newspapers. Each opposition newspaper
receives $105,000 (150,000 dinars) annually. The Government does not
permit the establishment of political parties on the basis of religion
and uses the prohibition to refuse recognition of the An-Nadha party
and to prosecute suspected members on the grounds of membership in an
illegal organization (see Sections 2.b. and 2.c.). In October the opposition
Popular Union Party (PUP) publication, Al-Wihda, reported that its by-election
candidate for Beja, Ziad Hani, was prohibited from distributing his
election statement calling for reforms.
Women participate in politics; however, the percentage of women in
government and politics does not correspond to their percentage of the
population. Twenty-one of the 182 Deputies elected in October 1999 were
women, up from 13 of 163 deputies in the previous Chamber. There are
four women in the Cabinet: two full ministers (the Minister of and Land
Management and the Minister for Women and Family Affairs) and two junior
ministers (the Secretary of State for Housing and the Secretary of State
for Public Health). Four women were appointed deputy governors raising
the total to 10 women holding that post.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental
Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Tunisian Human Rights League is the most active independent advocacy
organization, with 41 branches throughout the country. The organization
receives and researches complaints and protests individual and systemic
abuses. The LTDH's headquarters were closed and its activities suspended
from October 2000 to July pending the outcome of its civil case (see
Section 2.b.). LTDH members and other human rights activists reported
government beatings, harassment, interrogations, property loss or damage,
unauthorized home entry, and denial of passports. However, the Government
continued to maintain the regular contact with the LTDH that it established
In August a criminal case was brought against Khemais Ksila by a private
female citizen who alleged he sexually assaulted her. Observers believe
the case is receiving a disproportionate amount of press coverage aimed
at discrediting Ksila before he has the opportunity to present evidence
on his behalf. In August and September, LTDH vice president Souhayr
Belhassen was criticized heavily in the press for her work on a human
rights commission investigating abuses in Iraq. The report has not yet
been released. In an October interview, LTDH president Mokhtar Trifi
said that he believes the press campaigns against Ksila and Belhassen
were aimed at discrediting them personally, as well as the League by
There were numerous additional reports during the year of police attacking
human rights activists, journalists, and others critical of the Government
(see Sections 1.c., 2.a., and 2.b.).
The Government continued to refuse to authorize CNLT registration as
an NGO. The CNLT initially applied for authorization in 1998. The court
has not yet acted on the March 1999 administrative appeal filed by the
CNLT's founders. The Government stated that the case was submitted to
a court of justice, and that the situation requires that the Government
leave the matter to the judiciary. Although not recognized by the Government,
the CNLT issued statements criticizing government human rights practices.
Government officials stated that, by publishing communiques in the name
of an unregistered NGO, CNLT members violated the Publications Code
(which requires that advance copies be provided to the Government) belonged
to an illegal organization, and threatened public order. Some CNLT members
still are unable to obtain passports (see Sections 1.f. and 2.d.).
There were no developments in the Government's 1999 criminal investigation
of the leader of the Tunisian Association of Young Lawyers for meeting
with CNLT members in his office. A court indicted both CNLT members
Omar Mestiri and Moncef Marzouki in July 1999, and Marzouki again in
November and December 1999, on several charges, including belonging
to an illegal organization, violating the Publications Code, and spreading
false information, but there were no results in the investigation by
year's end. Scheduled hearings for Marzouki in connection with his December
2000 conviction on other charges took place in June and July, but he
declined to appear. On September 29, an appeals court judge upheld but
suspended the original 1-year sentence (see Sections 1.e. and 2.a.).
Marzouki and CNLT member Mustapha Ben Jaafar, both doctors, allege
that the Government prohibits them from treating patients in retaliation
for their human rights activism. In July the Minister of Health fired
Marzouki from his job as a doctor and professor at the Faculty of Medicine
at Sousse University.
The Arab Institute for Human Rights, headquartered in Tunis, was founded
in 1989 by the LTDH, the Arab Organization for Human Rights, and the
Union of Arab lawyers. It is an information rather than an advocacy
organization, and the Government supports its activities. In April the
Institute organized two training workshops in Cairo aimed at NGO's working
in the field of human rights.
In February Robert Menard, secretary general of RSF, was deported for
distribution of illegal information for handing out copies of an unauthorized
newspaper in downtown Tunis. On September 29, police assaulted and detained
two foreign delegates from AI (see Section 1.d.).
International observers were permitted to monitor trials, and they
reported that the Government generally permitted them to conduct such
monitoring (see Section 1.e.). However, in February trial observer Eric
Plouvier, sent by the Paris-based NGO Observatory for the Protection
of Human Rights Defenders, was denied entry into the country. AI observer
Donatella Rovera and International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH)
observer Patrick Badouin remained barred from entering the country.
In July Danielle Mitterrand, president of the NGO France-Liberte, met
with human rights activists and opposition leaders and sought permission
to visit Sihem Bensedrine and Mohamed Moaada in prison. The authorities
denied permission. The Government reportedly blocked access to the Internet
Web sites of some of these organizations and those produced by the Committee
to Protect Journalists (see Section 2.a.). Human rights activists and
lawyers complain of frequent interruptions of postal and telephone services
(see Section 1.f.).
Amnesty International continued to maintain a Tunisian chapter. Its
members complained that the Tunis office suffered repeated loss of telephone
and fax service. Persons who were considering joining AI's Tunisia chapter
report that security officials discouraged them from doing so. AI officials
reported that they were under periodic police surveillance and that
there is interference with their mail. AI submitted a mission request
to visit Tunisia in April, which was denied by the Government. A subsequent
visit by AI researchers in September resulted in their being assaulted
and detained by police (see Section 1.d.).
Human rights offices in certain ministries and a governmental body,
the Higher Commission on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, address and
sometimes resolve human rights complaints. The Higher Commission submits
confidential reports directly to President Ben Ali. A Ministry of Human
Rights, Communications, and Relations with the Chamber of Deputies within
the Prime Minister's office is headed by Minister Slaheddine Maaoui,
who was appointed in February. In August the Government announced the
establishment of a documentation center for human rights that would
serve as an information clearinghouse of necessary information to promote
human rights in the country; however, at year's end, there was no indication
that it was operating. In February the Government reported that representatives
from NGO's held a meeting in Tunis to condemn foreign influence in the
country's internal affairs.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides that all citizens shall have equal rights
and responsibilities and be equal under the law, and the Government
generally upholds these rights in practice. The Constitution devotes
54 percent of the budget to social and development goals. Legal discrimination
is not pervasive, apart from that experienced by women in certain areas,
such as inheritance, which is governed by Shari'a.
Violence against women occurs, but there are no comprehensive statistics
to measure its extent. According to a family court judge in 2000, women
file 4,000 complaints of domestic violence each year, but later drop
approximately half of those complaints. The Tunisian Democratic Women's
Association operates a counseling center for women who are victims of
domestic violence. The center, located in Tunis, assists approximately
20 women per month. The National Union of Tunisian Women (UNFT) is a
government-sponsored organization that runs centers to assist women
and children in difficulty. Instances of rape or assault by someone
unknown to the victim are rare. Battered women first seek help from
family members. Police intervention often is ineffective because police
officers and the courts tend to regard domestic violence as a problem
to be handled by the family. Nonetheless, there are stiff penalties
for spousal abuse. Both the fine and imprisonment for battery or violence
committed by a spouse or family member are double those for the same
crimes committed by an individual not related to the victim.
Instances of rape or assault by someone unknown to the victim are rare.
Rape is specifically prohibited by the Penal Code. There is no legal
exception to this law for spousal rape, but in part due to social stigma
there were no reports of spousal rape being prosecuted.
Prostitution is prohibited by the Penal Code specifically, but charges
against individuals are rare. There have been no reported cases of trafficking,
forced prostitution, or sex tourism.
Women enjoy substantial rights and the Government has made serious
efforts to advance those rights, especially in the areas of property-ownership
practices and support to divorced women. The 1956 Personal Status Code
outlawed polygamy. Either the mother or father may convey citizenship
to a child. The Government introduced a law in December that would enable
a Tunisian mother to register her child as a citizen even in the absence
of the foreign father.
A 1998 presidential decree created a national fund to protect the rights
of divorced women, ensuring that the State would provide financial support
to women whose former husbands refused to make child support and alimony
payments regularly. The Government has processed 7,100 requests providing
divorced women over $10 million (14.5 million dinars) since the fund's
inception. Legislation requires civil authorities to advise couples
on the merits of including provisions for joint property in marriage
Nonetheless, most property acquired during marriage, including property
acquired solely by the wife, still is held in the name of the husband.
Inheritance law, based on Shari'a and tradition, discriminates against
women, and women still face societal and economic discrimination in
certain areas, such as private sector employment.
The Government continued to take strong measures to reduce official
discrimination, including adding equal opportunity for women as a standard
part of its audits of all governmental entities and state-owned enterprises
and providing leadership training for female civil servants; however,
it did not extend such measures to the private sector.
Sexual harassment is prohibited specifically by the Penal Code.
Women continue to enter the work force in increasing numbers, particularly
in the textile, manufacturing, health, and agricultural sectors. According
to 2000 government statistics, women constituted 29 percent of the work
force. There are an estimated 5,000 businesses headed by women, which
is an increase from 3,900 in 2000. Women serve in high levels of the
government as cabinet ministers or secretaries of state. Women constitute
37 percent of the civil service, employed primarily at the middle or
lower levels in the fields of health, education, and social affairs.
Women constitute 60 percent of all judges in the capital and 24 percent
of the nation's total jurists. Four women were named deputy governors
during the year bringing the number to ten out of 24. Approximately
50.4 percent of university students enrolled in the 2000-2001 academic
year were women.
The law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work. Although there
are no statistics comparing the average earnings of men and women, generally
women and men performing the same work are believed to be paid the same
While the rate of illiteracy has dropped markedly in both rural and
urban areas, the rate of female illiteracy in all categories is at least
double that of men. Among 10- to 14-year-old children, 5.5 percent of
urban girls are illiterate, compared with 2.2 percent of urban boys,
and 27 percent of rural girls compared with less than 7 percent of rural
Several NGO's focus, in whole or in part, on women's advocacy, or research
women's issues, and a number of attorneys represent women in domestic
cases. Media attention focuses on women's economic and academic accomplishments,
and usually omits reference to culturally sensitive issues. Throughout
the year, the Government funded several studies and projects designed
to improve the role of women in the media.
There is a separate Ministry for Women and Family Affairs, with a relatively
large budget nearly 3 percent of the total budget of $2 million (3 million
dinars) supporting its mission to ensure the legal rights and improve
the socioeconomic status of women. The Government supports and provides
funding to the National Union of Tunisian Women (UNFT), women's professional
associations, and the Government's Women's Research Center.
The Government demonstrates a strong commitment to free and universal
public education, which is compulsory until age 16. Approximately 80
percent of boys attend until that age in urban areas and 60 percent
of boys and girls in rural areas. Primary school enrollment for the
scholastic year was slightly less than the preceding year's, reflecting
a decline in the birth rate; secondary school enrollment showed an increase
of 8 percent, which appeared equally divided between boys and girls.
The Government reported that 99.1 percent of children attend primary
school full-time. The Government offers a maternal and child health
program, providing prenatal and postnatal services. It sponsors an immunization
program targeting preschool-age children, and reports that over 95 percent
of children are vaccinated.
In 1995 the Government promulgated laws as part of the Code for the
Protection of Children. The code proscribes child abuse, abandonment,
and sexual or economic exploitation. Penalties for convictions for abandonment
and assault on minors are severe. There is no societal pattern of abuse
of children. There is a Ministry for Children and Youth and a Presidential
Delegate to Safeguard the Rights and Welfare of Children.
There were no reports of child prostitution.
Some child labor continues, often disguised as apprenticeship, particularly
in the handicraft industry, and in the case of teenage girls whose families
place them as household domestics in order to collect their wages (see
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination based on disability and mandates that
at least 1 percent of the public and private sector jobs be reserved
for persons with disabilities. All public buildings constructed since
1991 must be accessible to persons with physical disabilities. Many
cities, including the capital, have begun to install wheelchair access
ramps on city sidewalks. There is a general trend toward making public
transportation more accessible to persons with disabilities. The Government
issues special cards to persons with disabilities for benefits such
as unrestricted parking, priority medical services, preferential seating
on public transportation, and consumer discounts. The Government provides
tax incentives to companies to encourage the hiring of persons with
The law includes provisions prohibiting discrimination against persons
with mental disabilities. Several active NGO's provide educational,
vocational, and recreational assistance to children and young adults
with mental disabilities. Some are funded by the Government and international
The Government estimates that the small Amazigh (Berber) minority constitutes
less than 3 percent of the population. Some older Amazighs have retained
their native language, but the younger generation has been assimilated
into Tunisian culture through schooling and marriage. Amazighs are free
to participate in politics and to express themselves culturally.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution and the Labor Code provide the right of workers to
organize and unions. The Government respects this right. The Tunisian
General Federation of Labor (UGTT) is the country's only labor federation,
but there is no legal impediment to forming another union. The UGTT's
historic strength has frustrated efforts over the years by dissidents
to form a viable, rival confederation. About 15 percent of the 3.3 million
person work force, including civil servants and employees of state-owned
enterprises, are members, and a considerably larger proportion of the
work force is covered by union contracts. There is no legal prohibition
against the establishment of other labor federations. A union may be
dissolved only by court order.
The UGTT and its member unions legally are independent of the Government
and the ruling party, but operate under regulations that restrict their
freedom of action. The UGTT's membership includes persons associated
with all political tendencies, although Islamists have been removed
from union offices. There are credible reports that the UGTT receives
substantial government subsidies to supplement modest union dues and
funding from the National Social Security Account. While regional and
sector-specific unions operate with more independence, the central UGTT
leadership generally follows a policy of cooperation with the Government
regarding its economic reform program, although throughout the year
the UGTT board, which took charge in September 2000, began to exercise
greater independence regarding economic and social issues and to support
greater democracy in the country.
Unions, including those representing civil servants, have the right
to strike, provided that they give 10 days' advance notice to the UGTT
and it approves of the strike. The International Confederation of Free
Trade Unions has characterized the requirement for prior UGTT approval
of strikes as a violation of worker rights. However, such advance approval
rarely is sought in practice. There were numerous short-lived strikes
over failure by employers to fulfill contract provisions regarding pay
and conditions and over efforts by employers to impede union activities.
While the majority of the strikes technically were illegal, the Government
did not prosecute workers for illegal strike activity, and the strikes
were reported objectively in the press. The law prohibits retribution
against strikers; however, there have been cases of employers punishing
strikers, which force strikers to pursue costly and time-consuming legal
remedies to protect their rights.
Labor disputes are settled through conciliation panels in which labor
and management are represented equally. Tripartite regional arbitration
commissions settle industrial disputes when conciliation fails.
Unions are free to associate with international bodies. The UGTT is
a member of the ICFTU, Confederation of Arab Trade Unions, and Confederation
of African Trade Unions; many individual unions are affiliated with
relevant international sectoral confederations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The right to organize and bargain collectively is protected by law
and observed in practice. Wages and working conditions are set in triennial
negotiations between the UGTT member unions and employers. Forty-seven
collective bargaining agreements set standards for industries in the
private sector and cover 80 percent of the total private sector workforce.
Each agreement is negotiated by representatives of unions and employers
in the area the agreement encompasses. The Government's role in the
private sector negotiations is minimal, consisting mainly of lending
its good offices if talks appear to be stalled. However, the Government
must approve (but may not modify) the agreements. Once approved the
agreements set standards for all employees, both union and nonunion,
in the areas that they cover. The UGTT also negotiates wages and work
conditions of civil servants and employees of state-owned enterprises.
The Government is the partner in such negotiations. The next round of
triennial negotiations is to be held in 2002. The agreements signed
in 2000 provided for annual wage increases ranging from 4 to 6 percent.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers. However, the
UGTT claims that there is antiunion activity among private sector employers,
especially firing of union activists and using temporary workers to
avoid unionization. In certain industries, such as textiles, hotels,
and construction, temporary workers account for a large majority of
the work force. The Labor Code protects temporary workers, but enforcement
is more difficult than in the case of permanent workers. A committee
chaired by an officer from the Labor Inspectorate of the Office of the
Inspector General of the Ministry of Social Affairs, and including a
labor representative and an employers' association representative, approves
all worker dismissals.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor by either adults or children,
and it is not known to occur. The law prohibits forced and bonded labor
by children, and the Government generally enforces this prohibition
effectively; however, some families of teenage girls place them as household
domestics to collect their wages (see Section 6.d.).
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment is 16 years. The minimum age for light
work in the nonindustrial and agricultural sectors is 13 years. Workers
between the ages of 14 and 18 must have 12 hours of rest per day, which
must include the hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children between the
ages of 14 and 16 in nonagricultural sectors may work no more than 2
hours per day. The total time that children spend in school and work
may not exceed 7 hours per day. The minimum age for hazardous work is
18. Inspectors of the Ministry of Social Affairs examine the records
of employees to verify that employers comply with the minimum age law.
There were no reports of sanctions against employers. Nonetheless, young
children often perform agricultural work in rural areas and work as
vendors in urban areas, primarily during the summer vacation from school.
Observers have expressed concern that child labor continues to exist,
disguised as apprenticeship, particularly in the handicraft industry,
and in the cases of teenage girls whose families place them as household
domestics in order to collect their wages. There are no reliable statistics
on the extent of this phenomenon; however, an independent lawyer who
conducted a study of the practice in 2000 concluded that hiring of underage
girls as household domestics has declined with increased government
enforcement of school attendance and minimum work age laws. The law
prohibits forced and bonded child labor, and the Government generally
enforces this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Code provides for a range of administratively determined
minimum wages, which are set by a commission of representatives from
the Ministries of Social Affairs, Planning, Finance, and National Economy,
in consultation with the UGTT and the Employers' Association. The President
approves the commission's recommendations. In August the industrial
minimum wage was raised to $138 (195.5 dinars) per month for a 48-hour
workweek and to $120 (170.9 dinars) per month for a 40-hour workweek.
The agricultural minimum wage is $4.27 (6.1 dinars) per day. When supplemented
by transportation and family allowances, the minimum wage provides for
a decent standard of living for a worker and family, but covering only
essential costs. The Labor Code sets a standard 48-hour workweek for
most sectors and requires one 24-hour rest period per week.
Regional labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing wage and hour
standards. They inspect most firms about once every 2 years. However,
the Government often encounters difficulty in enforcing the minimum
wage law, particularly in nonunionized sectors of the economy. Moreover,
more than 240,000 workers are employed in the informal sector, which
falls outside the purview of labor legislation.
The Ministry of Social Affairs has responsibility for enforcing health
and safety standards in the workplace. There are special government
regulations covering such hazardous occupations as mining, petroleum
engineering, and construction. Working conditions and standards tend
to be better in firms that are export oriented than in those producing
exclusively for the domestic market. Workers are free to remove themselves
from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and
they may take legal action against employers who retaliate against them
for exercising this right.
The few foreign workers have the same protections as citizen workers.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons; however, it prohibits
slavery and bonded labor. There were no reports that persons were trafficked
to, from, within, or through the country.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S.
State Department, March 2002