New Tunisian Law Hits Human Rights Activists

On 15 June 2010 the Tunisian Penal Code was speedily amended in a way that can in effect prevent Tunisian human rights activists from cooperating with the international community. Chairwoman Hautala condemned the measure in the meeting of European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, on 24th of June. [:]

Meeting at the Subcommittee was attended by Sihem Bensedrine, Secretary General of the Tunisian PEN and John Ralston Saul, President of the International PEN, who both condemned the measure and underlined that this move will open the door to only deepen the repression of civil society and human rights activists in Tunisia.

Additions to Article 61bis of the Penal Code mean that anyone convicted of harming Tunisia’s “economic security” faces a prison sentence of at least five years and 12 in maximum.

According to Amnesty International the changes to the Penal Code can too easily allow for targeting activities of human rights advocates who work with international institutions to pressure Tunisian government to pay more respect to the fundamental rights of its citizens. Indeed, Justice and Human Rights Minister Lazhar Bououni already stated that “harming Tunisia’s vital interests” included “inciting foreign parties not to grant loans to Tunisia, not to invest in the country, to boycott tourism or to sabotage Tunisia’s efforts to obtain advanced partner status with the European Union.”

It would certainly seem that there is a connection with these amendments to the Penal Code and the desire of the Tunisian government to prevent the civil society activists from lobbying the EU to take human rights into consideration in the ongoing negotiations over whether Tunisia should gain “Advanced Status” in cooperation with EU.