UN rights office calls for release of former justice minister – global issues

Mr. Bhiri, a parliamentarian from the Ennahdha party, was taken outside his home on December 31 by men in civilian clothes. No explanation was given and no arrest warrant was issued against him.

The moderate Islamist movement Ennahdha holds the most seats in the Tunisian parliament, according to media reports.

No formal fees

Mr. Bhiri, 63, was transported by shuttle to various places of detention kept secret for several hours, then placed under house arrest. Due to pre-existing health issues, he was transferred to hospital on January 2, where he remains.

Although officials said he was suspected of terrorism-related offenses, OHCHR said his lawyers had not been formally informed of any charges against him.

A second, unidentified man was also taken and detained on the same day as Mr. Bhiri, and in similar circumstances. Its location was not known until January 4.

“We urge the authorities to promptly release or properly charge these two men in accordance with due process standards for criminal proceedings,”said Liz Throssell, OHCHR spokesperson in Geneva.

Serious concerns

The developments have compounded the “already serious concerns” of the United Nations Office about the deterioration of the human rights situation in Tunisia.

Although the men’s families, as well as OHCHR staff around the country were able to visit them, Throssell said “These two incidents echo practices unheard of since the Ben Ali era and raise serious questions regarding kidnappings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions.

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than 20 years, was ousted in January 2011, during protests that sparked the Arab Spring.

Current president Kais Saied suspended parliament last July and assumed all executive functions, a move opponents have called a coup.

Preserve acquired rights

OHCHR has said the actions of the Tunisian Internal Security Forces have long been a matter of concern, having raised the issue repeatedly in discussions with authorities over the past decade.

Following the violent dispersal of the demonstrators on September 1, President Saied called on the forces to change their practices and act in accordance with the law. Although this is a “positive step,” the UN office said public commitment to international human rights obligations has yet to be translated into practice.

OHCHR was also concerned about the stifling dissent in Tunisia, notably through the abuse of anti-terrorism legislation and the increased use of military courts to try civilians.

Although the president has repeatedly pledged to reform the justice system, actions must comply with Tunisia’s international human rights obligations.

OHCHR recalled the “enormous progress” that the country has made over the past decade in the promotion of human rights, while stressing the importance of preserving these gains.

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