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Update on Tunisia

 

2018 XpA Scores:
Freedom of Expression – 0.77 Civic Space – 0.79
Digital – 0.77 Media – 0.82
Protection – 0.78 Transparency – 0.80

 

Tunisia is the only MENA country in the global top 40 for freedom of expression, and has seen the world’s biggest advances in its Civic Space, Digital, and Media themes.

In 2010, before the revolution, Tunisia was ranked in the 4th quartile  – it has risen more than 100 places over the last decade.

Last year, the Expression Agenda Report 17/18 reported that Tunisia has been consolidating its democratic system in the years since the Tunisian Revolution in 2011, but that democratic progress seemed to be stalling. This deceleration continued into 2018, with failures to repeal repressive laws and build key institutions compounded by problematic new legislation, bringing fresh concerns about the freedoms of assembly and association, as well as expression.[1]

Figure 35:

Despite success in passing a progressive new constitution, and holding its first democratic municipal elections on 6 May 2018, the country has also seen a number of legislative proposals that could undermine its progress.[2]

Around 1,500 protests over austerity measures took place in January and February.[3] Protesters and journalists were harassed, and hundreds arrested, including for distributing government-critical leaflets.[4] One protester was killed; the government claimed he died of suffocation after inhaling tear gas.[5]

The rhetoric of those in power worsened, with President Beji Caid Essebsi (who died in July 2019) describing the Tunisian press as ‘too free’ in February, and the Interior Minister threatening to prosecute anyone who cast doubt on the security forces via social networks.[6]

Leadership also failed to cement the rule of law, consistently failing to set up a constitutional court – a key element of the 2014 Constitution. Without this, national laws’ compliance with the constitution is unprotected, and, should the President become unable to fulfil his role, the door could be left open to an unconstitutional takeover of power in the absence of the court’s input.[7]

A number of archaic laws remain on the books, containing some serious restrictions on free speech, and can be used to attack press freedom and silence criticism.

Provisions criminalising the defamation of public officials have been used to charge individuals who criticise government officials or security forces. Mehdi Ben Gharbia – the Minister in charge of Constitutional Bodies, Civil Society and Human Rights – initiated a criminal defamation case against blogger Mohamed Hammami, resulting in his imprisonment for eight months.[8]

The draft guidelines for the revision of the current law raise concerns for civil society space, with potential restrictions around foreign funding and licensing.[9]

 

 

[1] ARTICLE 19, Tunisia: ARTICLE 19 Urges Government to Revitalise Efforts Towards Reform, 2 July 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/blog/resources/tunisia-article-19-urges-government-to-revitalise-efforts-towards-reform/

[2] ARTICLE 19, Tunisia: ARTICLE 19 Urges Government to Revitalise Efforts Towards Reform, 2 July 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/blog/resources/tunisia-article-19-urges-government-to-revitalise-efforts-towards-reform/

[3] Global Voices Advox, ‘Tunisian security forces target journalists covering anti-austerity protests’, 21 February 2018, available at https://advox.globalvoices.org/2018/02/22/tunisian-security-forces-target-journalists-covering-anti-austerity-protests/

[4] Human Rights Watch, Tunisia: Abusive Treatment During Protests, 31 January 2018, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/31/tunisia-abusive-treatment-during-protests

[5] Human Rights Watch, Tunisia: Abusive Treatment During Protests, 31 January 2018, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/31/tunisia-abusive-treatment-during-protests

[6] Global Voices Advox, ‘Tunisian security forces target journalists covering anti-austerity protests’, 21 February 2018, available at  https://advox.globalvoices.org/2018/02/22/tunisian-security-forces-target-journalists-covering-anti-austerity-protests/

[7] ARTICLE 19, Tunisia: ARTICLE 19 Urges Government to Revitalise Efforts Towards Reform, 2 July 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/blog/resources/tunisia-article-19-urges-government-to-revitalise-efforts-towards-reform/

[8] ARTICLE 19, Tunisia: On WPFD, the Government Rolls Back on Freedom of Expression Gains of the Tunisian Revolution, 3 May 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/resources/tunisia-wpfd-government-rolls-back-freedom-expression-gains-tunisian-revolution/

[9] ARTICLE 19, Tunisia: ARTICLE 19 Urges Government to Revitalise Efforts Towards Reform, 2 July 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/blog/resources/tunisia-article-19-urges-government-to-revitalise-efforts-towards-reform/

 

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