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Tunisia: Repressive crackdown on civil society organizations after months of escalating violence against migrants and refugees

Tunisia: Repressive crackdown on civil society organizations after months of escalating violence against migrants and refugees


Over the past two weeks, the Tunisian government has launched an unprecedented crackdown on migrants, refugees and human rights defenders working to protect their rights, as well as journalists, Amnesty International said today. This comes less than two weeks after a high-level coordination meeting with the Italian Interior Ministry on migration management.

Tunisian authorities have since May 3 arrested, summoned and investigated the heads, former staff or members of at least 12 organizations on vague charges, including financial crimes for providing aid to migrants, including a Tunisian organization working in partnership with The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. , for supporting asylum seekers through the process of determining refugee status in the country. They have also arrested at least two journalists and referred them to court for their independent reporting and media commentary.

In parallel, security forces have escalated their illegal collective evictions of refugees and migrants, as well as numerous forced evictions, and have arrested and convicted landlords for renting apartments to illegal migrants.

Tunisian authorities have stepped up their malicious crackdown on civil society organizations working for migrant and refugee rights by using misleading claims about their work and harassing and prosecuting NGO workers, lawyers and journalists. An online and media smear campaign, supported by the Tunisian president himself, has put refugees and migrants in the country at risk. It also undermines the work of civil society groups and sends a chilling message to all critical voices, said Heba Morayef, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa for Amnesty International.

The Tunisian authorities must immediately end this vicious campaign and stop all reprisals against NGO workers who provide essential support, including shelter, to migrants and refugees. The European Union must urgently review its cooperation agreements with Tunisia to ensure that it is not complicit in human rights violations against migrants and refugees, nor in the repression of the media, lawyers, immigrants and activists.

The Tunisian authorities must immediately end this vicious campaign and stop all reprisals against NGO workers who provide essential support, including shelter, to migrants and refugees.

Heba Morayef, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa

Targets of the government crackdown include the non-governmental organization Tunisian Council for Refugees (CTR) which recently announced a tender for hotels to submit proposals for a program to house asylum seekers and refugees. Tunisian authorities arrested both the head and deputy head of the CTR and prosecutors ordered their detention pending investigations into allegations of forming a criminal alliance with the aim of helping a person enter Tunisian territory without travel documents. Attorney General of Tunis announced that an official investigation has been launched against a group of associations and organizations that are abusing their mandate to provide financial support to illegal immigrants.

On May 8, Tunisian police also arrested human rights defender Saadia Mosbah, head of Mnemty, a Tunisian anti-racist organization that provides support to refugees and migrants, and suspended her pending investigation into financial crimes related to with the financing of organizations. Police searched the organizations offices in Tunis as well as Mosbahs home and questioned him and two Mnemty staff members about the organization's funding, activities and partners.

Savage attack on immigrants and refugees

The latest blow comes in parallel with President Kais Saieds inflammatory remarks during a meeting of the National Security Council on May 6, in which he specifically attacked civil society organizations, describing them as traitors, [foreign] angry agents and trumpets fueled by foreign salaries, due to receiving foreign funds and offending the state. He said that criticism of the state constituted treason. His speech came shortly after a meeting in Rome on migration May 2, 2024 between the interior ministers of Algeria, Italy, Libya and Tunisia.

On at least six occasions between July 2023 and April 2024, the Tunisian president publicly accused civil society organizations of interfering in Tunisia's internal affairs and financing corruption, specifically referring to their receipt of foreign funds as reasons for discredit their work.

On Friday 3 May, before dawn, Tunisian security forces evicted hundreds of migrants and refugees, including children, pregnant women and UNHCR-registered asylum seekers, who were camping in a public park near the IOM and UNHCR offices in Tunis. During the deportation, according to Amnesty International's documentation, security forces used tear gas and tasers against them, including against children. They hit them with kicks, punches and sticks. In his address to the security council on May 6, the president also revealed that Tunisian security forces forcibly returned 400 people to the Libyan border, in an apparently illegal collective expulsion.

On May 4, the security forces forcibly expelled 15 migrants who had been living in a youth complex in Marsa, a northern suburb of Tunis, since 2017. The group, who fled Libya in 2011, had previously been expelled from a UN refugee camp in Ben Gardene , southern Tunisia, after it closed in 2013 UNHCR had rejected their asylum applications. All 15 people are being detained on the charge of illegal stay in the country. They appeared before the public prosecutor without an interpreter or a lawyer.

Tunisian authorities are carrying out illegal arbitrary collective deportations without due process or individual protection assessments in flagrant violation of international law. They must immediately stop these deportations and ensure that the rights of all refugees and migrants, including children, are protected at all times, said Heba Morayef.

Between May 8 and 10, authorities arrested two people and sentenced another individual to eight months in prison for harboring undocumented people.

On May 11, the authorities arrested lawyer and media personality Sonia Dahmani, under Decree 54, over comments she made on TV questioning the authorities' claims that migrants are coming to Tunisia with the intention of settling in the country. On May 13, an investigating judge in Tunis ordered her detention.

Authorities also arrested two journalists on Saturday, May 11. According to their lawyers, they were questioned about their work and various critical comments they had made in the media. On May 15, a Tunis investigative judge indicted the two journalists and ordered their detention under Decree Law 54 s Article 24, which provides for five years in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars (US$16,000) for anyone who publishes content intended to violate the rights of others, harm public security or national defense, spread terror among the population, or incite hate speech. They will appear in court on May 22. On May 13, three legal representatives of three different private media outlets (radio and TV) were summoned for questioning about their reporting.

The Tunisian authorities must urgently reverse this apparent reversal of human rights. They must stop this judicial harassment and release all those who have been detained just for exercising their freedom of expression and freedom of association. People should have the freedom to express themselves without fear of retaliation, said Heba Morayef.


In July 2023, the European Union signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Tunisia, according to which, among other things, the EU has agreed to provide Tunisia with technical support to prevent Europe-related migration, including 105 million with a focus on border management, as well as nearly 1 billion in additional loans and financial support amid the country's unprecedented economic crisis. This agreement, which lacked transparency or parliamentary scrutiny, remains in place. Amnesty International has done it repeatedly write to the EU leadership raising concerns about the consequences of cooperation with Tunisia without a preliminary human rights risk assessment.




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