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Amnesty International Calls on Tunisia to Respect Human Rights

As Tunisia celebrates 20 years of rule by President Ben Ali, Amnesty international says his two decades in office have been marred by a pattern of human-rights violations. The rights group calls on him to address the serious human rights violations in his country. From London, Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA.

Thursday marks the 20th anniversary of Tunisian President Ben Ali's accession to power. Although the past 20 years have been marked by rapid economic growth, Amnesty International says progress has come at the cost of democracy in Tunisia.

An Amnesty statement says Mr. Ben Ali's time in office has been rife with a pattern of human-rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, unfair trials, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and curbs on freedom of speech.

Amnesty's Said Haddadi told VOA that Tunisia has used its economic growth as a cover for these abuses.

"The problem is that Tunisian authorities usually present any legitimate criticism and dissent in a security framework so that is why the international community has been keeping a blind eye on these violations and the Tunisian authorities have been using [the] security card to clamp down on any independent dissent be it political or linked to human rights," said Haddadi.

Amnesty says since the introduction of an anti-terrorism law in December 2003, the human-rights situation has deteriorated. The rights group says the law contains a vague definition of terrorism which has been used by the security forces to target human rights defenders and peaceful critics and opponents of the government in an attempt to stifle any independent criticism.

Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment continue to be reported, including in prisons. Hundreds of political prisoners held in connection with alleged terrorism activities, including prisoners of conscience, continue to be imprisoned in conditions that amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and possibly torture. Many have been tried and convicted after unfair trials, including before military courts.

Amnesty International called for President Ben Ali to take concrete measures to address what it calls the longstanding pattern of serious human-rights violations in Tunisia. It also urged the president to ensure that all allegations of torture and other ill treatment of prisoners are urgently investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Attempts to get a comment from the Tunisian Embassy by VOA were unsuccessful as it was closed for the anniversary.