The Justice Ministry said that at the time the transitional government took office, slightly more than 500 prisoners were being held for politically motivated offenses. The number was close to the estimate given by the International Association for Solidarity with Political Prisoners, an independent Tunisian human rights organization.
About 150 remain incarcerated, 87 serving sentences under the anti-terrorism law and another 56 awaiting trial, according to a Justice Ministry official. A few additional prisoners are serving politically motivated sentences not under the anti-terrorism law but under the ordinary penal code or military law.
During the events surrounding the president’s ouster, 11,029 prisoners escaped, of whom 2,425 had voluntarily surrendered as of February 3, a Justice Ministry official said. Since then, the judiciary has used its prerogative under the law to release conditionally 3,240 criminal prisoners, some of them first-time offenders who had served half their sentences and others who are recidivists and who were eligible for release after having served two-thirds of their sentences.
A Justice Ministry official said that 128 prisoners convicted under Tunisia’s 2003 anti-terrorism law were among those who escaped and that they have been urged to return to custody. Another 177 serving sentences under the anti-terrorism law were among those released conditionally and another 100 facing trial under that law were freed provisionally.
Nearly all of those still in detention for politically motivated offenses were convicted under the anti-terrorism law. Among this population, almost none were convicted in connection with specific terrorist acts or possession of weapons or explosives. Instead, they were charged with such offenses as “membership in a terrorist organization,” planning to join jihadists in Iraq or Somalia, recruiting others for that purpose, or of having knowledge of crimes and failing to notify the police.
Only two prisoners from the banned Islamist Nahdha party remain in prison: Ali Farhat, 52, and Ali Abdallah Saleh Harrabi, 53, both from the southern city of Douz. Like the majority of Nahdha members imprisoned in the past, they were convicted of nonviolent offenses such as membership in, or collecting funds for, an “unrecognized” association, and attending “unauthorized” meetings. Human Rights Watch met both men at Mornaguia, where they are serving sentences of about six months.
Filed under: Tunisia |