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The Tunisian government promised yesterday that it will no longer place prisoners in solitary confinement for more than 10 days, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, the government also approved access for Human Rights Watch to Tunisian prisons, where prisoners have been held in isolation for years on end.

“The Tunisian government’s decision is a welcome step toward ending the brutal practice of holding prisoners in prolonged isolation,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We stand by the conclusions of our report, and look forward to gaining access to Tunisian prisons to help ensure that the government fully implements its promises.”

In a meeting yesterday with Human Rights Watch, Tunisian officials promised the government would end the practice of holding prisoners in prolonged isolation under any circumstances as of April 20. The officials acknowledged that they have placed prisoners in “individual cells,” but denied that any prisoners had been held in prolonged solitary confinement against their will. They claimed that prisoners had been placed in isolation either at their own request to be held apart from other prisoners, or as a punishment for a maximum of 10 days.

Earlier today in the Tunisian capital, Human Rights Watch released a report charging that the government is holding as many as 40 political prisoners against their will in prolonged solitary confinement or “small group isolation,” in which up to three prisoners share a cell but are otherwise isolated from the general prison population. The report was based on interviews with recently released Tunisian political prisoners in addition to other sources.

The Tunisian government told Human Rights Watch researchers that they could visit prisons on their next visit to the country. No independent human rights organization has been granted access to prisons in Tunisia since 1991, when the Tunisian League for Human Rights was allowed to conduct a single visit.

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