CRACKDOWN UNDER COVER OF A COURT DECISION
Quite aside from the question of whether the emergency court ruled to evict the steering committee on the merits of the arguments made before it, the immediate and zealous enforcement of the injunction betrays the government's interest in the case. In contrast to the more leisurely pace at which injunctions are usually executed in Tunisia, a bailiff arrived at the LTDH office on November 27 within hours of the emergency court ruling, accompanied by the district police station chief and a large contingent of policemen. They ordered the immediate eviction of LTDH members present. To this date, the entrance to the office is under police surveillance and the keys are in the hands of the court-appointed administrator. According to steering committee members, this is the first time ever that a court in Tunisia has appointed an administrator to oversee an independent association, a procedure that is normally imposed only in commercial disputes.
The government enforced the temporary freeze in additional ways. First, it took legal action against League President Trifi and First Vice President Jourchi when the committee continued to issue communiqués following the interim court order-subsequently appealed-that it suspend all activities. The state prosecutor first summoned Jourchi for a December 25 hearing, in connection with a December 11 LTDH communiqué he had signed describing recent incidents of harassment of human rights defenders. At the hearing Jourchi refused to answer questions when his request to be assisted by his lawyers was denied. He was then questioned by an investigating judge (juge d'instruction) on January 2 and 18 on charges of failure to obey a judicial order (Article 315 of the Penal Code) and disseminating "false" information capable of disturbing "the public order" (Article 49 of the Press Code). The first offense carries a maximum prison sentence of fifteen days; the second, of three years.
Trifi's turn was next. After signing most of the communiqués issued by the steering committee since its election, he was summoned for questioning by the state prosecutor on February 23 regarding a communiqué issued on February 12, criticizing the verdict issued earlier that day nullifying the general assembly and its elections. The communiqué attacked the trial as "unjust" and the verdict as proof of "the determination of the authorities to liquidate the LTDH." The steering committee would "pursue the mission for which it had been elected," the communiqué declared. Before the state prosecutor, Trifi, like Jourchi two months earlier, refused to answer questions when his request to be assisted by his lawyers was denied. Trifi then appeared on March 3 before an investigating judge, who notified him that he was being investigated on the same charges as Vice President Jourchi: disseminating "false" information capable of disturbing "the public order" and failing to obey a judicial order. At the next hearing, on March 10, Trifi came accompanied by some fifty lawyers who had joined the defense team. When the judge refused to transfer the hearing to a chamber large enough to accommodate all of them, Trifi's lawyers walked out in protest. Trifi then refused to respond to questions in the absence of his lawyers, and requested a postponement. The judge denied this request. As this report went to press, there had been no further developments in the cases against Trifi and Jourchi.
While the emergency injunction supposedly freezes only the activities of the national steering committee, police have on numerous occasions been deployed in large numbers to thwart attempted gatherings of LTDH at every level, including the national council, the local sections, and meetings of any kind at the law offices of LTDH President Trifi and his partner Mohamed Jmour, the steering committee's lead attorney. Police have also prevented meetings organized by other organizations in support of the LTDH steering committee. For example:
34 LTDH communiqué, December 3, 2000.
35 Reprinted in the online digest Tunis News, issue dated March 16, 2001. Available: www.groups.yahoo.com/group/TUNISNEWS [April 11, 2001]