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HRW: Tunisia should release those convicted in violation of human rights

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Friday urged [press release] Tunisian authorities, in celebration of the country's new constitution, to quash the sentences of anyone convicted under laws that violate human rights, including Jaber Mejri. In March 2012, Mejri and another blogger, Ghazi Beji, were sentenced to more than seven years in prison for harming "public order or good morals" and "insulting others through public communication networks" after publishing caricatures on his blog deemed insulting to Islam. Beji fled to France where he gained political asylum since the 2011 revolution. However, according to HRW, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki [BBC profile] has the authority to pardon Mejri and should. "Tunisia's new constitution has bold protections for freedom of speech and freedom of conscience," HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director Eric Goldstein said. "Mejri's sentence violates his freedom of speech, and the government should celebrate the new day in Tunisia by freeing him." Tunisia's new constitution protects the right to "freedom of opinion, thought expression, information and publication," as well as a provision that protects public freedoms from authorities. "In congratulating Tunisians on their constitution, leaders of other countries at the ceremony should urge authorities to release people such as Mejri, whose conviction seems to contradict the rights enshrined in the new constitution," Goldstein said.

Tunisia has faced political turmoil since Zine El Abidine Ben Ali left office amid nationwide protests in 2011. Last month, Tunisia's parliament [official website, in Arabic] passed the new constitution [JURIST report], with 200 out of 216 members voting in favor of the draft. It is the first constitution since the ousting of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] Also last month, Tunisian members of parliament rejected [JURIST report] Islam as the main source of law for the country as they voted to establish a new constitution. In July UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] condemned [JURIST report] the assassination of a Tunisian opposition leader. In May HRW urged Tunisia to modify its draft constitution [JURIST report] to ensure protection of human rights. Two months earlier HRW urged Tunisia to repeal its criminal defamation law [JURIST report], which is typically considered a civil offense throughout the world. That same month Tunisian lawmakers voted to approve [JURIST report] a timetable for its draft constitution and national elections. In October 2012 HRW called on Tunisian authorities to investigate a series of attacks [JURIST report] by religious extremists and to bring those responsible to justice.

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