[JURIST] Tunisia’s parliament [official website, in Arabic] on Saturday voted to approve a new anti-terror law despite strong criticism [HRW press release] from NGOs and human rights groups. The law, which replaces 2003 legislation passed under the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], was adopted following an attack in June [Reuters report] in Sousse and on Tunisia’s national museum in March, both claimed by the Islamic State (IS) [JURIST backgrounder]. The adoption of the law came after three days of parliamentary debate and a vote of 174-0 with 10 abstentions. Though the law has been hailed by some as a great step towards making the country safer, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] claims [HRW report] that it will “open the way to prosecuting political dissent as terrorism, give judges overly broad powers and curtail lawyers’ ability to provide an effective defense.” Part of the concern for the bill, advocacy groups say, comes from the law’s vague definition of terrorist crimes and its failure to provide enough protection for the rights of defendants. Leftist opposition members also contend [AFP report] that the law does not distinguish between acts of terror and protests.
Tunisia has had a history of human rights violations that was hoped to be reformed by the passage of a new constitution [JURIST report] in January 2014 that offered more expansive freedoms of speech, conscience and religion. The new constitutional rights guaranteed by the constitution compelled HRW to ask [JURIST report] for further action in the release of prisoners convicted under human rights violations in February of that year. In April of this year an analysis by HRW of the Tunisian government’s new draft counterterrorism law suggested [JURIST report] that the law as drafted could potentially lead to serious human rights abuses. The practices that HRW denounced remained in place after the passing of the constitution. In January HRW reported [JURIST report] that Tunisia had failed to bring to justice those responsible for the use of excessive force by police during the uprising four years ago. Also in January HRW criticized [JURIST report] the Tunisian government after it sentenced blogger Yassine Ayari to three years in prison for posting criticisms of government officials on Facebook.