HRW denounces Tunisia cybercrime decree use against political opponents News
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HRW denounces Tunisia cybercrime decree use against political opponents

Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced on Tuesday a cybercrime decree used against political opponents in Tunisia. Most recently, Tunisia sentenced Chaima Issa, a member of the opposition coalition National Salvation Front, and Sofiane Zneidi, a member of the largest opposition party Ennahda, under the decree.

Tunisian President Kais Saied issued Decree-Law No. 2022-54 on September 13. The decree aims to “prevent[] offences relating to information and communication systems and their repression.” However, HRW Tunisia Director Salsabil Chellali claimed, “Tunisian authorities have used it to stifle and intimidate a wide range of critics.” The decree provides for a fine and five years prison for disseminating “fake news” and “rumours” that are “intended to defame others” and “damage their reputation.” The penalties are doubled if the person concerned is a Tunisian official.

HRW stated that more than 40 people have been arbitrarily detained and almost all of them have been held for months, some over a year, in pretrial detention. HRW claimed that Tunisia’s use of the decree is in breach of Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to liberty.

HRW also claimed the Tunisian authorities’ application of the decree to Issa, who was sentenced by a military court, violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ right to a fair trial.

HRW also raised concerns about Tunisians’ right to privacy due to Articles 6 and 9 of the decree. Under Article 6, telecommunications companies must store Tunisian users’ data for two years. Article 9 allows authorities to then seize that data to “unveil the truth.”

Chellali stated that the decree could have been issued “to make cyberspace and its users safer,” by tackling problems with the use of technology, and the spread of misinformation. Instead, the decree has been used to prevent political opposition in the country.

Underscoring HRW’s concerns is the International Commission of Jurists’ assertion that the vague language used in provisions of the decree contravenes principles of legality. The commission highlighted the lack of clear definitions of concepts such as “rumours” within the decree. The International Commission of Jurists argued that this vague language allows Tunisian authorities “to legitimize arbitrary attacks on freedom of expression.”

HRW called upon Tunisian authorities to “repeal this repressive decree, release those held under it, and drop all prosecutions for peaceful expression.”