[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday called [press release] Tunisia’s military justice law repressive after blogger Yassine Ayari was sentenced to three years for “defaming the army” and “insulting military high command” for posting criticisms of government officials on Facebook. HRW criticized the Tunisian government for trying and convicting Ayari a month before his arrest on December 24 and for the dual issues of civilians appearing before a military court and the fact that the trial was conducted in absentia. HRW pointed to international law provisions applicable in Tunisia that prohibit the trial of civilians before military courts in order to prevent military jurisdiction over civilians. HRW also said that in absentia trials can undermine the basic rights awarded in trial proceedings. The report also called into question Article 91 of Tunisia’s military code, which allows up to three years imprisonment for crimes against the army and called it incompatible with Tunisia’s responsibilities under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text], which protects uninhibited expression in regards to public figures and institutions. HRW claims that Ayari’s constitutional rights were violated as the country offers the protection of free speech. HRW called on the Tunisian government to abolish Article 91 and restrict the mandate of military tribunals from allowing jurisdiction over civilians.
Tunisia’s history of human rights violations was thought to have been reformed with the passing of a new constitution [JURIST report] in January 2014 that offered more expansive freedoms of speech, conscience and religion. The new constitution even compelled the HRW to ask [JURIST report] for further action in the release of prisoners convicted under human rights violations in February of that year. However, the practices that HRW now denounces remained in place after the passing of the constitution, and were seen this past November when the son-in-law of former Tunisian dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile], was convicted [JURIST report] in absentia for gun possession charges.