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HRW fears Tunisians will lose rights won in 2011 under new state of emergency law Open in fullscreen

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HRW fears Tunisians will lose rights won in 2011 under new state of emergency law

The government would gain the power to put citizens under house arrest [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 21 February, 2019

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HRW has urged Tunisia to drop a proposed law which it says will further curtail rights under states of emergency. Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since 2015.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Tunisia to drop a new state of emergency law it says will "substantially" curtail human rights. The human rights organisation fears the law would revoke rights Tunisians gained after the 2011 revolution.

The legislation, proposed by President Béji Caid Essebsi in November, would allow the government to prohibit strikes - such as a months-long teachers' strike which came to a close this month - and protests deemed a threat to public order, and place under house arrest anyone seen as a security threat.

"The untamed powers that this bill grants would roll back many of the rights Tunisians have been fighting to protect since the 2011 revolution," said Amna Guellali, HRW’s Tunisia director, on Wednesday.

The government claims the legislation aims to strike a balance between protecting Tunisia from both internal and external security threats and protecting citizens' human rights.

HRW says that, if the legislation is approved, it will do just the opposite - leading to the curtailment of the rights to freedom of speech, association, movement and union rights.

Tunisia has been under a state of emergency for more than three years. The state of emergency was declared in 2015 following a series of attacks commited by the Islamic State group, and has been continually renewed since.

States of emergency in Tunisia have been based on a 1978 presidential decree, which Essebsi’s proposed law would overturn. If ratified, the bill would add substantial new powers to those allowed under the 1978 decree.

HRW says the new law goes beyond the definition of a state of emergency that international law permits. It specifies no maximum duration for broadly-defined states of emergency and lacks judicial safeguards.

By empowering authorities to ban all activities they say are "hampering public order" or "obstructing the work of the public authorities", the bill will also overturn the current law of associations implemented after the 2011 revolution, under which only the judiciary can suspend an association.

As well as adding the power to impose house arrests and close down public meeting places, the law would allow the interior minister to place people under "administrative control", under which they would have to report to a police station three times a day.

Authorities will also be allowed to confiscate passports and intercept communications, as well as to search places frequented by anyone suspected of presenting a "threat to national security" and seize suspects' computers without a judicial order.

"Emergency powers should be limited in scope and duration, and subject to court review," Guellali said.


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