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    HRW Condemns Tunisia’s Arrest of Union Leader Accused of Defaming Army

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    Human Rights Watch urges the Tunisia government to stop criminal proceedings against a police union leader, sentenced to two years in prison after his comments on the country's Defense Ministry actions.

    MOSCOW, December 4 (Sputnik) — Tunisia should drop criminal proceedings against a police union leader, sentenced to two years in prison in November on charges of defaming the army, following an in-absentia trial of which he was not notified, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report Thursday.

    “He [Sahbi Jouini] told Human Rights Watch that the prosecutor changed his status from witness to accused without notifying him. The Tunisian authorities should drop the criminal proceedings against him,” the HRW said in the report published on the organization’s website.

    According to the HRW, Jouini learned of his conviction through social media after he commented during a TV talk show that Tunisia’s Defense Ministry failed to take protective measures for an attack that killed 16 of its soldiers.

    Jouini said that the defense ministry had adequate intelligence information on attacks believed to have been conducted by members of an Islamist armed group close to the country’s border with Algeria earlier in July.

    HRW also condemned Tunisia’s violation of Jouini's right to free speech, recalling the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which the country is a party. According to provisions in the covenant, freedom of expression should not be inhibited in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures or institutions unless they are intended at inciting violence.

    “By sending the messenger off to prison, the Tunisian authorities are trying to shut down public debate about the Defense Ministry’s conduct and capabilities,” Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for HRW was quoted as saying in the report.

    In January, Tunisia’s parliament approved a new constitution, aimed as a step forward toward democratic transition, following the ousting of former President Zine Ben Ali in the 2011 Arab Uprising.

    The constitution was hailed as paving way for fundamental human rights, however, the country still experiences episodes of censorship as well as violence mainly against journalists.


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