Tunisia: Flaws in Revised Counterterrorism Bill


Tunis, July 7, 2015 – Tunisian legislators should drop problematic provisions from a new counterterrorism bill, nine nongovernmental organisations said in a joint letter to the parliament today. The draft would permit extended incommunicado detention, weaken due process guarantees for people charged with terrorism offenses, and allow the death penalty.

“It is perfectly understandable that the Tunisian authorities want to send a strong signal to their citizens following the recent acts committed against foreign tourists. The terrorist phenomenon should be eradicated,” said Antonio Manganella, ASF head of mission in Tunisia. “However, the repressive policies while violating human rights such as presumption of innocence have not been proven to be effective. The respect of fundamental rights according to international standards should be fully integrated in the fight against terrorism.”

The government sent the bill to parliament on March 26, 2015, following the attack on the Bardo Museum, which killed 22 foreign tourists. After a gunman killed 38 tourists in a hotel in Sousse on June 26, authorities announced that they will hasten the adoption of the law. The parliament is now debating the bill in the general legislation commission.

The Tunisian government’s new draft counterterrorism law would allow police to hold suspects in incommunicado detention for up to 15 days with a prosecutor’s consent and without bringing the person before a judge. During that time suspects would have no access to a lawyer or contact with their family, increasing the risk of mistreatment or torture. Currently, Tunisian law allows authorities to hold suspects – including those accused of terrorism-related crimes – for a maximum of six days. The draft law would allow a death sentence for anyone convicted of a terrorist act resulting in death, thus expanding the list of offenses under Tunisian law punishable by death. Tunisia has observed a de facto moratorium on executions since 1991.

The draft law also retains some of the flaws of the previous draft, including a broad and ambiguous definition of terrorism that could permit the government to repress a wide range of internationally protected freedoms. It could, for example, open the way for prosecuting as terrorism a public demonstration that led to “harming private and public property” or the disruption of public services.

Co-signers: Amnesty International, Article 19, Avocats Sans Frontières, Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network, International Federation of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, World Organization Against Torture, Reporters Sans Frontières, The Carter Center

To access the joint letter (version in English and in Arabic)

Cover picture: Tunis – March 2015 © ASF/ H.Gebs