Tunisia: Latest amendments to Electoral Law are unconstitutional and violate the right to freedom of expression

Civic Space 3 min read
ARTICLE 19

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

ARTICLE 19 has raised concerns about recent amendments to Tunisia’s electoral laws that would damage the openness of elections and violate freedom of expression.

The amendments would mean that candidates could be prevented from standing for office for voicing opinions that are critical of the “democratic system, the principles of the Constitution and the peaceful alternation in the exercise of power”.

Saloua Ghazouani, Director of ARTICLE 19 MENA said:

“Elections should be a time for free and open debate; this amendment could see politicians being censored for their views and prevented from standing in elections. This is undemocratic and will damage the legitimacy of forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

“All Tunisians – whether politicians or members of the public – should be free to voice their opinions about the country’s Constitution and democracy.”

“Indeed this amendment in itself is unconstitutional and we call on the Temporary Authority for the Control of the Constitutionality of Draft Laws to reject it on these grounds.”

This amendment to the Electoral Law comes at a politically sensitive time in Tunisia. Many politicians have declared their intention to run in the parliamentary and presidential elections that are expected before the end of this year.

To date, 51 deputies have signed a petition to contest the constitutionality of this amendment, which will be presented to the Temporary Authority for the Control of the Constitutionality of Draft Laws (TACCDL).

Background to Article 42

On June 18, 2019, the Assembly of Representatives of the People voted to add Article 42 Ter to the organic law related to Elections and Referendums. The new Article states:

[The independent high authority for elections] rejects the candidacies of all those who prove explicitly and repeatedly an expression of speech that:

  • Does not respect the democratic system, the principles of the Constitution and the peaceful alternation in the exercise of power and threatens the republican system and pillars of the rule of law”.

Article 42 violates the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Article 31 of the Tunisian Constitution and is a breach of Tunisia’s commitments to Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

It also violates the constitutional restrictions concerning rights and freedoms enshrines in the Article 49 of the Tunisian Constitution.

This amendment is inconsistent with other legal standards set to protect political speech and freedom of opinion. For example, the European Court of Human Rights ensures there are no limits to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression for matters of political speech or public opinions.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the TACCDL to confirm the unconstitutionality of this article with articles 31 and 49 of the Constitution and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.