In a letter to Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, dated July 7, 1997, the Academic Freedom Committee of Human Rights Watch urges the Tunisian government to restore immediately the personal liberties of Professor Moncef Ben Salem, formerly of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Sfax in Tunisia. According to Human Rights Watch, Dr. Ben Salem has been the target of a "coordinated government campaign of harassment" because of his political views. Dr. Ben Salem has been jailed twice by the current government, most recently from 1990-1993 for giving an interview to an Algerian newspaper in which he criticized the Tunisian government for human rights abuses and for what he viewed as the government's hostility to Islam. Although there have been no new charges made against him since 1993, he has not been allowed to resume his teaching post, and has been barred even from entering the campus to retrieve his books and papers. Dr. Ben Salem reports that police are stationed outside his door at all times, his activities and those of his wife and children are constantly monitored, visitors are subjected to identification checks, his mail service is irregular and unreliable, and he has been denied a passport.
A copy of the letter to President Ben Ali follows.
July 7, 1997
Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali
President of the Republic
We are writing this open letter on behalf of the Academic Freedom Committee of Human Rights Watch to protest the treatment of Dr. Moncef Ben Salem, a founder of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Sfax and a former visiting professor at the University of Maryland and the University of Michigan.
For nearly a decade, Dr. Ben Salem has paid a high personal and professional price for his political convictions. In November 1987, Dr. Ben Salem was arrested and held in detention for nearly a year and a half, accused by the Tunisian government of being active in the outlawed organization Mouvement de la Tendance Islamique. No formal charges were brought against him. Although he was released in May 1989, he was not allowed to resume his duties as professor. In April 1990, Dr. Ben Salem was arrested again, this time for giving an interview to an Algerian newspaper in which he criticized the Tunisian government for human rights abuses and for what he viewed as the government's hostility to Islam. Charged with "disseminating false information," Dr. Ben Salem was sentenced to three years in prison.
Since his release in 1993, Dr. Ben Salem has lived under virtual house arrest. He has been the target of a coordinated government campaign of harassment and isolation. Police are stationed permanently outside his door and follow him, his wife and his children wherever they go. Acquaintances, he says, are discouraged from visiting because of identification checks carried out by the police posted outside his residence. Dr. Salem reports that his mail service is irregular and unreliable, and that he has been denied a passport. Dr. Ben Salem continues to be prevented from resuming his duties at the university, and, indeed, has been forbidden even from entering the campus to retrieve his books and papers from his office.
As academic leaders, scientists and scholars dedicated to human rights, we deplore the continuing restrictions on Dr. Ben Salem's liberty. The restrictions on Dr. Ben Salem violate a number of fundamental international human rights
standards, including the right to travel abroad, guaranteed by article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the right to freedom of opinion and expression, guaranteed by article 19 of the UDHR and article 19 of the ICCPR.
Accordingly, we respectfully request a statement of the specific reasons for Dr. Ben Salem's virtual house arrest and an explanation of the basis under Tunisian law for the government's actions. We urge you to use your good offices to ensure that all harassment of Dr. Ben Salem cease and that his professional and personal liberties, including his right to travel freely, be restored immediately and unconditionally.
Thank you for your consideration of this important matter. We look forward to your reply.
Acting Executive Director, Human Rights Watch/Middle East
Co-Chair, Academic Freedom Committee