An investigative report by international NGO Human Rights Watch has condemned the Tunisian government’s extensive use of house arrests.
The report, which includes interviews with 13 Tunisian citizens placed under house arrest in the past year, concludes that such measures lack appropriate documentation, rely on insufficient evidence, and escape judicial oversight, ultimately amounting to a massive breach of individual liberties.
Arbitrary house arrest first came into widespread use in November 2015 after President Beji Caib Essebsi declared a national state of emergency following a deadly attack in the nation’s capital. What resulted was a rampant increase in the number of issued house arrests: 139 in total during the year-long interval. While the government has defended such measures as a necessary provision in the fight against terror, human rights activists are more critical.
“States of emergency do not give governments a blank check to curb rights,” said Human Rights Watch’s Tunisia director Amna Guellali. To be lawful, such measures should include clear time limits and be subject to appeal, she added.
Of those interviewed by HRW, many claimed to have suffered severe setbacks in their personal and professional lives from the restrictive policy. They lamented the loss of their jobs, educational pursuits, relationships, and social standing that have ensued since they have been subject to the constraint. The government blacklist has also cast them into a kind of of legal limbo: not charged with any specific crime, but unable to move freely for fear of government retaliation.
Ramzy Abderrahmane Ellafi, a 34-year old Tunisian national who has faced unsubstantiated accusations of attempting to join foreign terror groups from the police since 2008, is one such example.
“My life is ruined,” Ellafi said.“I used to work as a baker, in different locations, but now I cannot move without facing arrest. My fiancée decided to break up with me because she could not stand the situation. I cannot talk to my neighbors any more, they consider me a terrorist. And yet there is no case against me in courts.”
A signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Tunisia has agreed to abide by the document’s guidelines regarding the implementation of house arrests., which Article 9 states are permitted only “to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation” and with certain safeguards in place. Tunisia’s use of such measures, HRW reports, has flatly fallen short of these conditions.