<<previous  |  index  |  next>>


Human Rights Watch reaffirms its call for the release of all prisoners in Tunisia who were convicted for acts of expression, association, and assembly that have no link to violence or recognizable criminal activity.  For all other prisoners who were convicted of politically motivated acts in proceedings that did not confirm to international standards for a fair trial, we urge an amnesty or their release from prison pending new and fair trials.

Human Rights Watch urges Tunisian prison authorities to improve the living conditions and treatment of all persons in custody so as to comply with all relevant international norms, including those spelled out in the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.1

In particular, we urge an immediate end to the prolonged isolation of political prisoners as it is currently practiced.  No inmate should be placed in isolation except as a last resort.  When isolation is deemed to be warranted, there should be a presumption in favor of placing affected prisoners in cells or wings with one another, rather than in solitary confinement.

In accordance with international norms, solitary confinement should be imposed only for relatively short periods of time, in an individualized fashion, under strict supervision, including by a physician and only for legitimate penological reasons of discipline or preventive security. When used “preventively,” isolation should not be imposed to stop prisoners from exchanging political views and information, but only when an individual’s behavior has shown him or her to be so chronically violent or dangerous as to pose a demonstrable and serious threat to prison safety and security.

Tunisian authorities should make public the criteria governing the placement of inmates in isolation and all regulations pertaining to its practice.  Inmates placed in isolation, whether for punitive or preventive reasons, should be given a detailed, individualized explanation of the specific reasons in writing and have a meaningful opportunity to challenge the order at regular intervals.  Senior corrections officials should periodically review the justification for isolating each inmate, and their decisions should in turn be reviewed by an impartial, independent authority.

Tunisian authorities should ensure that conditions faced by prisoners placed in isolation preventively are no more restrictive than necessary for legitimate security considerations.  Policies should permit and encourage prisoners to maintain constructive lives and should acknowledge their inherent dignity and value as human beings.  When prison authorities isolate a prisoner for preventive reasons, they should find ways to enhance conditions for that prisoner in order to compensate for the hardship of the added restrictions on his movement and human contacts.

Tunisian authorities should honor their own pledge to abide by all parts of the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules, including by ensuring that all inmates:

  • reside in cells that have a window providing natural light and fresh air;
  • are allowed at least one hour daily outside their cell in a space that is large enough to allow for vigorous physical activity;
  • have access to meaningful activities and a broad variety of reading materials; and
  • may send and receive mail without arbitrary interference and delays.

Human Rights Watch also recommends that Tunisian authorities open its prisons, including isolation units, to independent and qualified domestic and international monitoring organizations, a step that was hinted at by Minister of Justice and Human Rights Béchir Tekkari on April 20.  Authorities should allow such visits to be unimpeded, unannounced and occurring at frequent intervals.

Tunisia should become a party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. The Protocol allows independent international experts to conduct regular visits to places of detention within the territory of states parties, to assess the conditions of detention and make recommendations for improvements.

We urge the European Union, the Arab League, United States, Canada, and all countries having bilateral relations with Tunisia to monitor prison conditions; to encourage access for independent monitoring procedures as noted above; and to press Tunisian authorities, through private and public channels, to bring their prisons into compliance with international norms, including by ending the arbitrary and unjustified use of solitary confinement for political prisoners.

We urge the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to turn its attention to the plight of political prisoners in prolonged isolation in Tunisia, and to request from Tunisian authorities access to prisoners in isolation.

[1] Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social Council by its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>July 2004