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Tunisia: Questionnaire Challenges Candidates on Human Rights Issues

October Vote for Constituent Assembly Will Set Nation’s Course

(Tunis) – Candidates running for the Constituent Assembly should make a public commitment to protect human rights, Human Rights Watch said today, in addressing a questionnaire to all of Tunisia’s political parties.

The questionnaire invites all candidates – those running both on party lists and independent lists in the October 23, 2011 election – to state their positions on key human rights issues. These include the need to guarantee gender equality as a matter of law, eliminate criminal penalties for nonviolent speech, strengthen judicial independence, and revise the anti-terrorism law to ensure it does not criminalize speech offenses or trample the right to a fair trial.

“The stakes for human rights are enormous in the election of an assembly that will draft a new constitution and probably adopt critical laws,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope the responses that parties and candidates give to this questionnaire on human rights issues will help voters make an informed choice on October 23.”

The questionnaire asks candidates to explain their position on 20 questions, including:

Will you support legislation to eliminate prison terms in the penal and press codes as a punishment for all nonviolent speech “offenses”?

Do you support making changes to Tunisia’s law on personal status? If so, what types of changes do you support?

Will you support amendments to the Law on the Magistrature to remove the control that the executive branch and its appointees effectively enjoy in the High Council of the Magistrature over decisions on the promotion and assignment of judges?

The Constituent Assembly will draft Tunisia’s next Constitution and set up interim institutions to govern the country until regular parliamentary and presidential elections are held. Human Rights Watch said that these responsibilities give the Constituent Assembly a major opportunity to erect a strong legal framework for consolidating human rights and reversing the legislative assault on human rights and the repressive practices that characterized the presidency of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

In Early October, before the elections, Human Rights Watch will publish in Tunisia the responses it receives to its questionnaire.

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