The Deep State is fighting back in Tunisia

À retrouver également ici : The Deep State is fighting back in Tunisia


The Interior Ministry has also sought outright impunity. A security bill proposed with ministry support in the spring of 2015 called for criminal penalties to be applied to anyone found guilty of “denigrating” the security forces. The bill was roundly criticized by rights groups, and so lost political support. But the fact that such a measure was proposed helps explain why it has become so difficult to hold the police accountable.

Countering terrorism has become useful politically — but the harsh tactics practiced by the security forces are causing a human rights nightmare. In the first half of 2015, almost 100,000 Tunisians, or nearly one percent of the population, were arrested. Activists and lawyers describe the counterterrorism policy as a dragnet, picking up poor Tunisians who seem suspicious because of their “salafist” dress and beards. Amna Guellali, the lead researcher for Human Rights Watch in Tunisia, explained that the police target people against whom they have no evidence: “It’s a pattern, it’s not one case or two, it’s not something occasional. No, they all come from neighborhoods which are more popular, more working class.”

These tactics are also putting pressure on the independence of the judiciary. Imen Triki, a lawyer who runs a legal defense organization, explained that in the terrorism cases, the justice system enjoys little independence from the police and Interior Ministry. She adds that security forces and judges equate hardline Salafist ideas with terrorism. “I was talking to young man, and he said there are no more Salafis to arrest because they have all been arrested… We are talking about eight, nine, ten thousand in prisons.

Worse, those arrested often face mistreatment, even torture— and upon release, are much more likely to radicalize.This is how you form terrorists,” said a Tunisian familiar with an unpublished parliamentary report that described thetorture and mistreatment of several young men who were arrested without evidence. He added that the young men’s lives are now broken, and that their experience will encourage the radicalization of others.

Observers are right to point out that acts of terrorism threaten Tunisia’s democratic gains — but Tunisia’s democracy advocates are quick to clarify that the real threat comes from the state’s response. So far, that response has been led by a group of security officials, politicians, pundits, and bureaucrats who regularly conflate terrorism and dissent.The root of the problem is that the security forces aren’t entirely under civilian control, that the Interior Ministry is subject to no meaningful oversight, and that it continues to have adversarial relations with ordinary citizens. These factors are fueling a counterproductive counterterrorism strategy and a return to authoritarian policies. With help from their international partners, Tunisians will have to address these dangers in order to find real security and preserve their new democracy.

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