In light of recent disturbances occurring in several Tunisian regions and villages — among them Sbeitla, Metlaoui, Sidi Bouzid, Jbeniana, Sakiet Ezzit, Douz, and El Kalaa — interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi announced in a speech on Tuesday, September 6th, that he would be fully implementing an extension of the state of emergency law that has been in place since January 14th. Implementation of the law is justified during specific circumstances, namely those categorized as “situations of chaos, political unrest, rebellion, civil disobedience, natural disasters, and internal conflicts.” It is required that the state of emergency last no longer than thirty days, unless another situation prompts its extension.
The exact definition of a “state of emergency” is based on decree number 50 of 1978, which was issued by previous president Habib Bourguiba on January 26, 1978. Its issuance came in response to a general strike and disturbances caused by the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), events which are now referred to as “Black Thursday.”
The state of emergency law prohibits public gatherings that “could threaten national security” and grants expansive powers to the Minister of Interior. One of the most important of these powers is the right to put any person who “engages in activities that pose a threat to national and public security” under house arrest. Additionally, the Minister of Interior and the local governors are granted the right to search shops and personal property, as well as to censor the press, radio broadcasts, and other activities, without requiring prior judicial permission.
The transitional powers had already extended the state of emergency once — with decree number 185 — which began in February 2011 and extended until July 31st. Moreover, in response to general strikes that broke out on July 21st, the president of the interim government at the time, Fouad Mubazaa, issued another decree — decree number 999 — which imposed an additional state of emergency over the entire country, and was declared to last until August 31st,
Essebsi’s recent decision to extend the state of emergency yet again was based on edict number 14, which was passed on March 23, 2011, and which concerns the provisional organization of public powers within Tunisia. Edict number 14 grants the interim president the power to declare a state of emergency. It also allows for the establishment of judicial bodies to hold special court sessions termed as “emergency courts” to rule over crimes termed as “crimes of emergency.”
Sources: Assahafa and Le Quotidien