BEIRUT

Middle East

Human rights abuses persist in new Tunisia, investigators say

FILE - Tunisia's President Moncef Marzouki attends a roundtable meeting at the Verdala Palace in Valletta on October 5, 2012 as part of the " 5+5 Dialogue" summit in Malta. (AFP PHOTO POOL BERTRAND LANGLOIS)

TUNIS: Tunisia’s human rights situation may have improved since the overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last year but torture and violent repression persist, international investigators said Friday.

Rights officials from the United Nations and the African Union concluded a visit to the country with a call on the government to act against violators, which include members of the police and hard-line Islamist groups.

“Most people we have met during our visit noted an overall improvement of the situation of humans rights defenders compared to before the revolution,” Margaret Sekaggya, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders, told a news conference.

But she added: “We observed several human rights violations, including attacks against journalists, artists and activists, torture, threats by conservative Islamic groups known as Salafists and excessive use of force against demonstrators by police.”

The comments are a mixed message for President Moncef Marzouki, a rights activist elected head of state last December, and the Islamist-led government which has pledged to respect human rights and ensure proper treatment of prisoners.

“We observed many cases of torture, including the death of a man in a police station last month, but we cannot say it’s systematic or more frequent than during the reign of the former president,” said Reine Alapini Gansou, the African Union’s human rights rapporteur.

Opposition figures, artists and journalists say they have been beaten by conservative Islamist Salafi groups over recent months and that authorities had failed to act.

The government, led by the Islamist party Ennahda, denies turning a blind eye to such incidents. Officials acknowledge the continued occurrence of human rights abuses but blames individual actions rather than any systematic problem.

Last month, Tunisia’s Organization Against Torture said dozens of prisoners had been tortured since the revolution, allegations which the group said could hinder efforts to secure the extradition of Ben Ali loyalists who fled abroad.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 06, 2012, on page 11.

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