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Human Rights Watch Urges Release of Detained Human Rights Activist in Tunisia

In a letter sent yesterday to Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Human Rights Watch urged the release of Khemais Ksila, the vice-president of the Tunisian League for Human Rights.

He was arrested Monday, only hours after launching a hunger strike to demand an end to the harassment he has endured for his human rights activism.

September 30, 1997

President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali
Palais Presidentiel
Tunis, Tunisia

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch/Middle East is gravely concerned by the arrest of Khemais Ksila and urges his immediate release. Ksila, a vice-president of the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH), was arrested yesterday afternoon at his home in Ariana by plainclothes police who presented no arrest warrant. Earlier in the day, Ksila had launched a publicly declared hunger strike at the headquarters in Tunis of the LTDH, to protest the harassment he has endured, apparently as a result of his human rights work, including the dismissal in February 1996 from his job at the national railroad company, confiscation of his passport and constant police surveillance.

According to information from his family, Ksila was questioned by an investigating magistrate about the communique‚ announcing his hunger strike, which had been circulated internationally. Ksila was then remanded into custody on suspicion of "inciting public disturbances" and "spreading false news." He is presently in April 9 Prison in Tunis, where neither his family nor his lawyers have been able to visit him. Another hearing before an investigative judge is scheduled for tomorrow, October 1.

In his communique, Ksila demanded the restoration of his rights and criticized the government for "regimenting all of society, eliminating all dissent and taking over all information institutions to the point where news in Tunisia has deteriorated to a level that the country has never before known; meanwhile, most institutions and organizations of civil society have been turned into satellites after having been tamed and destroyed, through wide-scale fear and terror."

We believe that Ksila has been arbitrarily arrested solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, a right protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Tunisia has ratified. We also believe that over the past two years he has suffered a campaign of harassment due to his work on behalf of human rights. We note, also, that the building where his family resides remained today under constant police surveillance, according to our information.

Human Rights Watch respectfully calls for Ksila's immediate and unconditional release from detention and the restoration of all of his rights. We believe that he, and all other human rights activists in Tunisia, should be free to defend and disseminate information about human rights without fear of persecution or harassment.

We thank you for your consideration and welcome your comments.

Sincerely yours,

Hanny Megally
Executive Director

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