Anti-terrorism bill approved by Tunisian parliament

Mon 27 Jul 2015

Anti-terrorism bill approved by Tunisian parliament

On 24th July Tunisia's parliament overwhelmingly approved legislation allowing the death penalty for those convicted on terrorism charges after Islamist militant attacks that killed dozens of foreign visitors in the past few months. Speaking following the announcement, the president of the assembly, Mohamed Ennaceur, called the passing of the law an “historic” moment and said it would “reassure” the country’s citizens. However, the bill, same as its latest draft, received criticism regarding human rights issues from organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and civil society.

The Law
The new "law against terrorism and money laundering" has brought back the death penalty for certain terrorism- related offences such as killings of foreign visitors or someone under the "international protection". It also makes public expressions of support for terrorism a jailable offence. Another article imposing death penalty refers to people who commit rape during the course of a terrorism-related crime. The death penalty already exists in Tunisia law, but nobody has been sentenced to capital punishment since 1991. The new bill also allows authorities to detain suspects for 15 days without access to a lawyer or being brought before a judge while also making it easier for investigators to use phone-tapping. The law was widely supported by both secular and Islamist parties. It was approved with a large majority of 174 votes for and 10 abstentions after three days of debate.

Advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned the bill. The major concern remains the fact that the law brings back capital punishment for a number of offences. Rights groups also questioned the powers the law accords the authorities, allowing them to detain suspects for 15 days without access to a lawyer or being brought before a judge. Advocacy groups have said the law's definition of terrorist crimes is too vague and it fails to adequately safeguard the rights of defendants and could undermine freedoms. Eric Goldstein, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director has acknowledged that Tunisian authorities have legitimate concerns about the possible threats of terrorism to Tunisians and foreigners, however according to him, the law adopted should not flout international human rights standards. The coalition of Tunisian 10 civil society groups, including the bar association, the journalists' union and several rights groups have also released a statement saying that “there are many holes in the law that could open the way to human rights violations". Members of the leftist opposition have criticised the bill as well, saying it could be used to stifle popular movements and does not distinguish between protests and terrorist acts.

A study by the International Crisis Group, released on 23rd July 2015, contended that reforming the security services would be more effective than harsher penalties in combatting terrorism. The report said Tunisia's police suffered from corruption, brutality and poor organization and without a reform to improve the training and conduct of police, "Tunisia will continue to stumble from crisis to crisis as its regional environment deteriorates and political and social tensions increase, at the risk of sinking into chaos or a return to dictatorship," said the report.

Precautions against ISIS
Tunisia is especially concerned about militants entering from adjacent Libya, where Islamic State has established a toehold amid chaos caused by two rival governments battling for control, leaving a security vacuum. Tunisia says it has started building a wall and trench along the insecure 168 km (105 miles) of its frontier with Libya. The country has also declared state of emergency for 30 days counting from 4th July in order to give security forces more powers. Moreover, in a sign of the prevailing tensions in the country, the interior ministry on Friday 24th of July announced it had foiled a planned terror attack in Bizerte in the North, arresting 16 suspects and killing another as well as seizing arms and explosives.

Yahoo News 1  2, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Tunisia Live, Tap