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Tunisia Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

The Tunisian Constitution provides protection for human rights and guarantees gender equality. The constitution is considered liberal and, unlike most Arab countries, Islamic law, Sharia, is not the basis of the judicial process. The situation for the media has improved since the revolution in 2011.

New parties are formed and political regrouping takes place all the time in today's Tunisia - previously the dictatorship chose which parties would be allowed. But the whole thing is a full-scale exercise in democracy-building, where everything does not go in pace. An example is that individual organizations must register with an authority, an injunction that was introduced as late as 2018 and has faced protests.

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Requirements for system improvements have been raised, not least by a truth commission that examined the dictatorship that fell in 2011. The more important requirements include independent courts and transparency in the work of police and security forces.

In several areas, one can note changes that have occurred or are in progress: A law against racism has been adopted and begun to be applied. A Jewish minister was appointed in 2018. Several cities have female mayors. A law against trafficking in women has been introduced.

Democracy and Human Rights of TunisiaIn some cases, there are reasons to wonder if public opinion is ready: A Muslim woman can now legally marry a man who is not Muslim, but may find it difficult to find someone who is willing to marry them (see Calendar). Legislative proposals on equal inheritance rights for women and men have raised protests, as well as proposals to decriminalize homosexuality. Resistance has to do with religion: In many cases the Qur'an permits different interpretations, but in the matter of inheritance, the text explicitly states that a daughter inherits half as much as a son. (When the Qur'an came, it probably meant a strengthening of women's rights.)

Transparency International ranked Tunisia 74th among 180 countries in its review of corruption in the world in 2019, see list here.

Freedom of expression and media

Press freedom is enshrined in the constitution from 2014 and press and ether media are also protected by new laws. At the same time, remnants still remain from the Ben Ali regime's tough media control. Journalists may still be subject to harassment by the security service and also experience threats from Muslim extremists. The problems, together with the risk of being brought before a court for, for example, prosecution, led to a certain degree of self-censorship among the media. Reporters Without Borders finds Tunisia in place 72 out of 180 in the organization's ranking of how great freedom of the press is in the countries of the world by 2020, see list here.

Assessors have also seen risks that new terrorist legislation following attacks that occurred in the mid-2010s (see Current Policy) could threaten the press freedom in the long term. In 2014, for example, the government closed a radio station and a TV channel accused of constituting a forum for extremist Islamist views. The government faced sharp criticism for not letting the Independent Authority for Freedom of Expression for Radio and Television (Haica), formed in 2011, handle the matter.

Despite the heavy censorship of the internet during the previous regime, social media provided important forums for the protest movement during the revolution. Today, there is no censorship of the internet, but journalists and bloggers have since been held accountable for articles and posts. For example, a blogger was sentenced to a year in prison in 2015 for "defaming the army" after criticizing the defense minister. The blogger was released after three months.

Several of the owners of major newspapers and media companies still have links to the previous regime.

In the state TV and radio companies, as in the daily press, both Arabic and French. The private channels Nessma TV and Hannibal TV have been dominated by entertainment programs. A protracted conflict between the Haica investigation authority and Nessma culminated in April 2019 with the channel being closed, but the company has continued to try to get the business going again.

Judicial system and legal security

The judiciary is largely built on the French model. It distinguishes between courts for criminal and civil cases and has a system of administrative law, a court of law and a constitutional court.

The former regime exercised strong control over the judiciary and the courts often went to the regime's affairs. The current constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary, but in practice there are still shortcomings, among other things, the Ministry of Justice is stated to intervene in the appointment of services.

In 2011, Tunisia joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the first North African country. Thereafter, international human rights and torture agreements were signed.

For several years after the dictator Ben Ali's case, a Truth Commission worked to investigate human rights violations committed since 1955. The Commission has had tens of thousands of cases to review and submitted a long list of proposals for improvement in 2019, including giving the courts greater independence and strengthen witness protection (see Calendar). The situation for human rights has improved after the revolution, but torture and detention are reported to occur and security forces have escaped punishment. The conditions in the prisons are substandard. Exceptional laws, introduced on the grounds of terrorism, have been extended time and time again.

The death penalty has not been applied since 1991, but remains in the new constitution. In 2015, as anti-terror laws were tightened, the number of crimes that could result in the death penalty was increased.


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