U.S. ‘deeply concerned’ over multiple arrests in Tunisia
The United States is “deeply concerned” about the arrests of politicians, business leaders and journalists reported in recent days in Tunisia, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday.
“We are deeply concerned by the reported arrests of multiple political figures, business leaders, and journalists in Tunisia in recent days,” Ned Price said in opening remarks at the daily press briefing.
In recent days, Tunisian police have arrested a number of figures with links to the opposition or critics of President Kais Saied, including prominent politicians, two judges, the director of Tunisia’s main independent press and a senior official of the powerful UGTT union.
Washington is “engaged with the Tunisian government at all levels in support of human rights and the freedom of expression,” the Spokesman said.
“We respect the aspirations of the Tunisian people for an independent and transparent judiciary that is able to protect fundamental freedoms for all,” he added.
More than a dozen people—activists, judges, and journalists, among others—have been arrested over the past week. These coordinated arrests raised fears of a broader crackdown on dissent and prompted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, to call for their immediate release.
Volker Türk expressed deep concern over the escalating crackdown against political opponents and civil society activists in Tunisia, and denounced the measures taken by the authorities that continue to undermine the independence of the judiciary.
In a press release issued earlier this week in Geneva, the UN official said at least nine people, including former civil servants, judges, veteran politicians and a major broadcaster, have been arrested lately on security and corruption charges.
The UN Human Rights Office has rebuked Tunisian authorities for launching criminal proceedings against opponents, charging them with “conspiracy against State security”.
“We are additionally concerned that some of those held on charges connected to criticizing the Government have been tried in military courts”, said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urging the authorities to cease immediately trying civilians before military tribunals.
“We call on the Tunisian authorities to respect due process and ensure fair trial standards in all judicial proceedings and to release immediately all those arbitrarily detained, including anyone detained in relation to the exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion or expression”, he said.
Using long-term instability and the popular perception of corruption as a pretext, Tunisian President Saied suspended and later dissolved the parliament and dismissed the government in July 2021. Since then, he has taken a series of other measures, including a new constitution and new electoral laws with far greater centralization of power. His moves have also undermined the independence of the judiciary, including dissolving the High Judicial Council and the summary dismissal of 57 judges.
The opposition has called Saied’s so-called political process a “presidential coup” and organized numerous protests demanding his resignation. Due to their boycott calls, the referendum in July last year for a new constitution and the national elections held earlier this year saw a historically low voter turnout.