Human rights campaigners and independent civil society groups in Tunisia are subjected to official obstruction, harassment and sabotage, rights group Amnesty International said in a report.
Tunisia is in the process of applying to the European Union for “advanced status,” which could give it preferential trade terms, but diplomats say concerns in some EU capitals about its rights record could complicate the application, reports Reuters.
Tunisia’s government says it is committed to democracy and human rights. It denies repressing dissent and says that in some cases it is forced to act against people who break the law and undermine the country’s reputation.
In a report entitled “Independent voices stifled in Tunisia,” Amnesty said many independent civil society groups had found themselves being taken over by government loyalists to mute any criticism.
The group also said rights campaigners and other activists were routinely followed by police, lawyers who defend rights cases can be prevented from practising and groups were often barred from renting meeting rooms.
“Human rights activists and those who dissent are accused of being unpatriotic and relinquishing the honour of belonging to Tunisia, before being harassed and intimidated,” Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said in a statement.
Tunisia is a country of about 10 million people whose economy — based mainly on tourism, farming and manufacturing — depends on close ties to Europe.
President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has led the country for more than two decades. Many Tunisians credit him with overseeing stability and relative prosperity in a region where civil strife and poverty are common.
Tunisian officials say some of Ben Ali’s opponents are engaged in an unscrupulous campaign, together with foreign interests, to discredit