Allow Tunisian human rights activists to speak with EU institutions!

Amnesty International EU Office Press Release
Allow Tunisian human rights activists to speak with EU institutions!

(Brussels, 12 July) The European Union must press Tunisia to stop the harassment of human rights activists who are trying to bring the country’s human rights record to the EU’s attention, Amnesty International said today. The organization is particularly concerned at a recent move by the Tunisian authorities to amend a law criminalizing the advocacy of foreign bodies such as EU institutions, initiated after Tunisian human rights activists visited Madrid and Brussels in May.

The amendments to Article 61bis of the Tunisian Penal Code criminalize the undermining of the country’s “economic security” by contacting foreign institutions and organizations. The amendments were rushed through Tunisia’s lower house of parliament after Tunisian human rights activists met with EU parliamentarians and officials, in Madrid and Brussels, to talk about the human rights situation in their country. The amendments will come into force following the signature of Tunisia’s president, Zine El ‘Abidine Ben ‘Ali.

The EU must not let these amendments come into force. It is totally unacceptable that a country in the EU’s neighbourhood prevents its own citizens from visiting and speaking to European institutions and organizations that are working for the improvement of human rights around the world,” said Nicolas Beger, the director of Amnesty International’s EU office.

In the Amnesty International report, Independent Voices Stifled in Tunisia the full extent to which Tunisia is stifling independent civil society is exposed. Tactics routinely used by the Tunisian authorities against human rights activists include the infiltration of human rights groups by state authorities, which in many cases has led to their complete take-over by government supporters. Several human rights organizations have been effectively prevented from officially registering, leaving them in legal limbo for long periods in which they are unable to meet or operate legally under Tunisian law.

Amnesty International has also documented a series of incidents against independent voices in the country, ranging from physical assault to prosecution of activists based on trumped-up charges. All these events have occurred while Tunisia has been engaged in negotiations that would grant the country advanced status in its relationship with the EU.

The EU plays a crucial rule in pressing the Tunisian authorities to stop the harassment and intimidation of human rights activists and government critics immediately. If Tunisia wants to enjoy the benefits of closer cooperation with the EU, then the Tunisian government should allow its citizens to enjoy the freedom of communicating with European institutions and organizations,” concluded Beger.

For further comment/background and interviews:
Amnesty International EU Office (Brussels):
Tel: 32-2-502 1499/32-2-548 2773
Email: [email protected]