Tunisia: Solidarity with Lawyers in the Fight Against the Return of Dictatorship

Stand Firm for a Free, Pluralistic, and Democratic Tunisia

Wednesday, May 15, 2024
Tunisia: Solidarity with Lawyers in the Fight Against the Return of Dictatorship

To the Lawyers of Tunisia,

Dear Friends,

On this day as you gather for a protest in front of the Lawyers' Association, a bastion of democratic struggle in Tunisia, where your colleague, Ms. Sonia Dahmani, was brutally abducted by masked security forces on the evening of Saturday, May 11th, we salute your courage in defending her. We stand by you in your just and rightful struggle to restore the rule of law and protect public and individual freedoms in Tunisia. We support your fight for judicial independence and resistance against the return of a police state, a goal relentlessly pursued by President Kais Saied since his coup in 2021.

We are deeply concerned about the unprecedented wave of repression since the 2011 revolution. Regarding Sonia Dahmani's case, she was issued a detention order by the investigating judge without being heard. On the same night of her arrest, journalists Mourad Zghidi and Borhan Bsaiss, who were with her on the same program, were also detained, and their detention was extended on Monday, May 13th.

The judicial persecution of Sonia Dahmani is based on the infamous Decree 54 issued by the President Kais Saied in 2022. Relying on this repressive decree, which violates international human rights standards, reveals a maneuver aimed at stifling dissenting voices in Tunisia.

Dahmani is being prosecuted for condemning the racist hate campaign against migrants from sub-Saharan Africa led by President Kais Saied and some members of parliament. The hate speech and discrimination have been inflamed on Facebook pages violently targeting migrants, civil society organizations, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, and activists who provide assistance to migrants.

In the same context of repression and mistreatment against migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, Saadia Mosbah, the president of the Tunisian anti-racism association Mnemty ("My Dream"), and Sherifa Riahi, former country director of Terre d'Asile Tunisie ("Tunisia Land of Asylum") organization, were arrested under the counterterrorism and money laundering law of 2015. These cases are not isolated, as many activists are detained and the premises of associations are raided on daily basis.

The situation of Sonia Dahmani is not an isolated case.

The indictment chamber issued 17 serious charges against activist Bochra Belhaj Hmida, one of our founding members and the former president of the Democratic Women's Association. Bochra, a former member of parliament and former chair of the Individual Freedoms and Equality Commission, was forced into exile due to judicial harassment and implicated in the case now known as the "conspiracy case." Bochra's unwavering commitment to just causes has been recognized through numerous national and international awards. Bochra Belhaj Hmida is charged with "conspiracy," a charge punishable by death, for receiving the French Legion of Honour.

It is worth noting that other prominent human rights defenders are being tried in the same case, such as Mr. Kamel Jendoubi, who laid the foundations for democratic struggle in Tunisia and the greater Middle East and North Africa region. In the same context and case, constitutional law professor and president of Doustourana Network (“Our Constitution”)- a member association of the International Federation for Human Rights - Jaouhar Ben Mbarek has been in prison for about 15 months. It is evident that President Kais Saied plans to gradually eliminate his opponents. Those who have fought all their lives for a free and democratic Tunisia are subjected, as was the case during Ben Ali's regime, to extremely serious charges and measures.

Mr. Ghazi Chaouachi, Mr. Ridha Belhaj, Ms. Abir Moussi, and Mr. Nour Al-Din Al-Bahiri are currently in prison for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and protest, rights recognized by all international texts ratified by Tunisia. Other lawyers, such as Mr. Ayachi Hammami, are subject to judicial harassment. Lawyer Abdelaziz Essid is being tried for defending victims of human rights violations and thus for exercising his profession.

The wave of repression against lawyers must stop! Targeting lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders, artists, online activists, opposition figures, and their supporters is an attack on society as a whole. The International Federation for Human Rights stands in solidarity with the legal profession, civil society, media, unions, and the Tunisian people. Your struggle for freedom and democracy is our struggle.

Dear Lawyers, Guardians of Justice, through this message, we call on you to remain steadfast in achieving justice and reclaiming freedom of expression in Tunisia. We also call on all partners of Tunisia to condemn these violations and express solidarity with all its victims.


International Federation for Human Rights

Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights

Riposte Internationale

Mwatana for Human Rights