[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday called on Tunisian authorities [press release] to investigate a series of attacks by religious extremists over the last 10 months and to bring to justice those responsible. Of the artists, intellectuals and political activists attacked, six filed formal complaints with police and identified their attackers. However, HRW contends that police have not made any arrests or initiated any investigations or prosecutions, as required by international law. Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East and North Africa director, stated that “[t]he failure of Tunisian authorities to investigate these attacks entrenches the religious extremists’ impunity and may embolden them to commit more violence.” HRW first urged Tunisia to investigate the incidents in a July 2012 letter [text] to the ministers of justice and interior and described that the country’s authorities were already showing signs of failing to investigate attackers that appeared to be motivated by an Islamist agenda. Before receiving a response, another attack occurred on August 16 when a group of bearded men attacked a festival commemorating the international day for Jerusalem and injured at least three activists. HRW still has not received a response from Tunisian authorities.
Tunisia has faced global criticism and political turmoil since former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] left office amid nationwide protests in January 2011. In August the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice [official website] urged the Tunisian government to ensure that women’s rights are protected [JURIST report] in line with the nation’s international human rights obligations. Also in August HRW called on the new government to ensure judicial independence [JURIST report]. In July a Tunisian military court sentenced Ben Ali in absentia to life in prison [JURIST report] for his involvement in the killing of 43 protesters during the 2011 Tunisian revolution, which resulted in the death of more than 200 protesters. Ben Ali was already sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] for his involvement in the killing of 22 protesters. He has also been sentenced to 20 years [JURIST report] on charges of inciting violence and murder in connection with the death of four protesters. In April the country’s military appeals court upheld [JURIST report] the convictions against the former president for torturing military officers over an alleged coup plot in 1991. Ben Ali has denied [JURIST report] all charges brought against him. During the 2011 revolution, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called for investigations into the Tunisia Security Force’s alleged brutality against protesters, and HRW similarly urged police [JURIST reports] to end the alleged violence.