(Tunis) – Tunisian legislators should drop problematic provisions from a new counterterrorism bill, nine nongovernmental organizations said in a joint letter to the parliament today. The draft would permit extended incommunicado detention, weaken due process guarantees for people charged with terrorism offenses, and allow the death penalty.
“Tunisian authorities have legitimate concerns about the growing influence of extremist groups and individuals and the threat they pose to Tunisians and foreigners,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “But laws to counter terrorism should meet – not flout – international human rights standards.”
The government sent the bill to parliament on March 26, 2015, following the attack on the Bardo Museum, which killed 22 foreign tourists. After a gunman killed 38 tourists in a hotel in Sousse on June 26, authorities announced that they will hasten the adoption of the law. The parliament is now debating the bill in the general legislation commission.
The Tunisian government’s new draft counterterrorism law would allow police to hold suspects in incommunicado detention for up to 15 days with a prosecutor’s consent and without bringing the person before a judge. During that time suspects would have no access to a lawyer or contact with their family, increasing the risk of mistreatment or torture. Currently, Tunisian law allows authorities to hold suspects – including those accused of terrorism-related crimes – for a maximum of six days. The draft law would allow a death sentence for anyone convicted of a terrorist act resulting in death, thus expanding the list of offenses under Tunisian law punishable by death. Tunisia has observed a de facto moratorium on executions since 1991.
The draft law also retains some of the flaws of the previous draft, including a broad and ambiguous definition of terrorism that could permit the government to repress a wide range of internationally protected freedoms. It could, for example, open the way for prosecuting as terrorism a public demonstration that led to “harming private and public property” or the disruption of public services.
Avocats Sans Frontières – Belgique
Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network
Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme (International Federation of Human Rights)
Human Rights Watch
Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (World Organization Against Torture)
Reporters Sans Frontières
The Carter Center