• Tunisian parliament passes new counterterrorism legislation with large majority
  • Human rights groups heavily criticise text of new law

Tunisia’s Assembly of People’s Representatives (ARP) has passed a new counterterrorism bill by 174 in favour and 10 abstentions.

The law is a response to two lethal terrorist attacks, which killed 22 tourists at Tunis’ Bardo Museum in March and 38 tourists on a beach north of the coastal city of Sousse in June.

Local and international human rights groups have criticised the “flawed” wording of the legislation and said it falls far short of international standards. The flaws include “a broad and ambiguous definition of terrorism that could permit the government to repress a wide range of internationally protected freedoms,” according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement from earlier in July. The new powers could be used to suppress freedom of speech, protest and public sector strikes.

“Article 13 is alarming with respect to freedom of expression because of its vague and inaccurate wording and opens the way to possible arbitrary abuses,” reads a joint statement from nine human rights groups, including HRW and Amnesty International. “Any individual who makes a statement directly or indirectly touching on the subject of terrorism could be accused of such an offense.”

The statement also raises concerns about rights to due process and access to legal advice, claiming the new counter-terrorism law is unconstitutional. Police will be able to hold suspects for up to 15 days without a lawyer, increasing the risk of torture and forced confessions. The law facilitates surveillance, deportation of foreign nationals and closed hearings, while criminalising whistleblowers.

Tunisian security forces have arrested at least thirteen people since the law was passed. The law also allows the death sentences for those convicted of terrorism offences. Tunisia has not carried out any executions since 1991. The new legislation replaces a 2003 dictatorship era law which was criticised on similar grounds.

Tunisia is constructing a 160-kilometre wall along the Libyan border in an attempt to prevent further terror attacks. The two terrorist atrocities so far in 2015 have hit Tunisia’s tourism industry. According to local press, just in the small resort town of Mahdia almost 1,500 hotel workers have lost their jobs as hotel occupancy rates have fallen to below 20 per cent.

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