HRW slams Tunisia’s ‘secret detentions’ under state of emergency

Members of the Tunisian security forces stand outside the closed headquarters of Tunisia's Supreme Judicial Council in the capital Tunis on February 7, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
TUNIS — Tunisian authorities are using emergency laws to place people in “secret detention”, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday, warning that the practice was becoming ever more common under President Kais Saied.اضافة اعلان

“The Tunisian authorities are using what they are calling assigned residences to conceal secret detentions on the pretext of a state of emergency,” the rights group said in a statement.

“Assigned residences were already common under former president Beji Caid Essebsi. But abuses under this extrajudicial measure have increased since President Kais Saied granted himself extraordinary powers,” the group said.

Saied on July 25 last year sacked the government, froze parliament and seized wide-ranging authority, later moving to rule by decree.

On Saturday, he said he would dissolve a key judicial watchdog.

HRW urged the authorities to “immediately” end arbitrary detentions “or use the legal, fully transparent route to allow for a judicial challenge”.

It cited the cases of former justice minister Noureddine Bhiri and former interior ministry official Fathi Baldi, both members of Saied’s nemesis, the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party.

“More than a month after their arrest, neither Baldi nor Bhiri have received any written notification of their assigned residence,” nor of an arrest warrant or formal charge, the rights group said.

“Failure to reveal a person’s place of detention is an alarming step toward a lawless state and is in no way justified by the state of emergency that has repeatedly been extended since 2015,” said Salsabil Chellali, the group’s Tunisia head.

The two former officials were arrested by plainclothes police officers on December 31 and later accused of possible “terrorism” offences.

HRW said Baldi was being held in a secret location and that his lawyers had still not been able to meet him, despite several requests.

Bhiri has been on hunger strike since he was detained, and his wife told HRW he was receiving food via drip.

His defense team said Wednesday that his deteriorating health meant he was no longer able to receive medicine via transfusion.

In a statement, his lawyers also said Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine would be held “criminally responsible” if Bhiri died.

Tunisia’s anti-torture commission, the INPT, says the men are only allowed visits by family members, under police supervision.

Read more Region and World