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Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government mainly respected these rights, although there were constraints. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system contributed to an environment generally conducive to these freedoms. Watchdog groups expressed concerns over security forces and other actors committing violence against journalists but noted that the level of violence dropped from the previous year. Civil society expressed concerns over occasional government interference in media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Public speech considered offensive to “public morals” or “public decency,” terms undefined in the law, continued to be treated as criminal acts. Provisions of the penal and telecommunications codes, for example, criminalize speech that causes “harm to the public order or public morals” or intentionally disturbs persons “in a way that offends the sense of public decency.”

Press and Media Freedoms: The constitution provides for freedom of the press. In August, Tunisia signed the Declaration on Media Freedom in the Arab World, committing the country to principles of media freedom, independent journalism, and the right to information. Activists expressed concern, however, about government interference in media. A 2016 Reporters Without Borders report criticized President Beji Caid Essebsi’s speech on January 22, in which he denounced “certain journalists and media” for aggravating unrest during the nationwide employment protests that followed the death of unemployed protester Ridha Yahyaoui. Yahyaoui was electrocuted when he climbed a power pole near the governor’s office after the local government removed him from a list of potential candidates for public-sector jobs. The government ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Yahyaoui’s death; the case was pending as of November.

On September 26, a military prosecutor charged journalist Jamel Arfaoui with impugning the reputation of the army after he wrote an article published in Tunisie Telegraph on July 14 criticizing as inadequate the army’s lack of investigation into a military plane crash. On November 16, prosecutors charged Rached Khiari with impugning the reputation of the army and undermining its morale after his participation in a popular talk show during which he claimed that authorities signed an agreement allowing the United States to establish a military base in Tunisia. Both men faced charges of up to three years in prison and were being tried in a military court, although both men were civilians. Khiari faced additional charges of defamation of a civil servant and damaging the morale of the army to harm national defense, which carries a possible death penalty.

Violence and Harassment: Security officials continued to harass and threaten journalists, although to a lesser extent than in 2015, according to human rights organizations. The NGO Tunis Center for Press Freedom (CTLP) reported a decrease in the number of attacks against journalists during the year, to six attacks per month, with the exception of May with 10 reported attacks, mostly by members of the security forces. Assaults on journalists were mainly reported during summer, when journalists were banned from covering certain festival events in Djerba and Bizerte, according to the CTLP, which called on the Ministry of Interior to open a formal investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized individuals who published items counter to government guidelines. While online and print media frequently published articles critical of the government, journalists and activists at times practiced self-censorship to avoid violence targeting journalists, mainly from security forces or other anonymous attackers, according to the CTLP.

Libel/Slander Laws: In July 2015 counterterrorism police summoned Abdelfattah Said for questioning about a video he published on social media expressing his opinions on the cause of the Sousse terrorist attack. He was charged with complicity to facilitate terrorism, defaming a public servant, and knowingly broadcasting false news. Police transferred Said to al-Mornaguia prison in July 2015. In December 2015 the court sentenced Said to one year in prison and a fine of 2,000 dinars ($870). Said’s lawyers appealed the decision. According to Amnesty International, there were no further updates on the case during the year.


The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There was no censorship of websites, including those with pornographic content, with the exception of websites linked to terrorist organizations. According to Internet World Stats, 52 percent of the population used the internet.


There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom. The CTLP reported that journalists were banned from some festivals in Bizerte and Djerba.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association


The Presidency of the Republic declared several extensions of a nationwide state of emergency, in effect since November 2015, when a suicide bomber attacked members of the Presidential Guard. The most recent extension was issued on October 18 for three months. The government previously ordered extensions of the state of emergency in January after widespread social unrest, in March following a terrorist attack in Ben Guerdan, and in June and July. Protests and clashes with security forces throughout the country started on January 16 in the governorate of Kasserine after the death of Yahyaoui. Local media reported that security forces used violence against protesters and arrested 1,105 persons, including 523 individuals accused of violating a nationwide curfew imposed on January 22.

On April 9, security forces violently dispersed a peaceful group of demonstrators of the General Union of Tunisian Students who were demanding jobs and prohibited them from demonstrating in front of the Prime Ministry.


The law provides for the right of freedom of association, but the government did not always respect it. A 2011 law on associations eliminated penalties in the previous law, as well as the prohibition on belonging to, or serving in, an unrecognized or dissolved association. The law eased the registration procedure, making it more difficult for government entities to hinder or delay registration. The International Observatory of Associations and International Development, an independent association that monitors the functioning of civil society, asserted the government was delaying registration of associations through unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, at times for political reasons, a practice counter to the law on associations.

According to the 2011 law, only the judiciary has the authority to suspend or dissolve an association. According to the Prime Ministry, during the period 2011-16, the government sent warnings to 805 associations and requested the suspension of 234 for violations of the law of associations. Courts suspended 112 of these associations and in four cases ordered the dissolution of the organizations. The Prime Ministry claimed that proper procedure was followed in all cases.

In November 2015 some members of parliament called for the dissolution of LGBTI-focused NGO Shams. On January 4, an administrative court suspended Shams’ activities pursuant to a government claim that the association had registered to advocate for the rights of “sexual minorities.” The government claimed that the Shams’ charter did not allow it to advocate explicitly for gay rights, since the charter only listed the purpose of the organization as advocating for the rights of “sexual minorities.” On February 24, an administrative court ruled in Shams’ favor, overturning the government’s complaint and allowing Shams to function legally; however, the government had not published the organization’s charter in the national gazette, leaving Shams unable to register for a bank account or conduct financial activities.

The government issued a ban of the annual conference of Islamist party Hizb Ettahrir scheduled for June 4, citing security reasons. An administrative court overturned the ban on June 3. On the morning of June 4, the governor of Tunis announced the closing of the venue until June 20, using powers granted to him under the state of emergency. The governor told media he took the decision “to avoid disturbing public order.” After several warnings to party leaders that the party violated Decree Law 88 of 2011 requiring that associations respect the rule of law and basic democratic principles and are prohibited from calling to violence, hatred, intolerance, or discrimination on a religious basis, the government suspended the activities of Hizb Ettahrir for 30 days beginning on August 15. On August 30, an administrative court overturned the suspension, citing “procedural problems” with the government’s case. On September 2, the government brought a criminal case against the party for inciting violence against the state, and the chief prosecutor referred the case to a military court. On September 20, members of Hizb Ettahrir refused to appear before the military court. The case remained pending as of December.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, vulnerable migrants, and other persons of concern.

Since 2014 more than 500 individuals complained to the Observatory of Rights and Freedoms of Tunis that the government prevented them from travelling over suspicions of extremism, in some cases apparently based on the travelers’ religious attire. The group added that some persons were prevented from travelling despite having a clean record, because they were related to a terrorist suspect. In other cases the observatory claimed that women were prevented from travelling if suspected of prostitution, often based on appearance alone.


Access to Asylum: The country does not have a law for granting asylum or refugee status. Pending the creation of a legal framework, UNHCR is the sole entity conducting refugee status determination. UNHCR provided assistance to registered refugees for primary medical care and in some cases for basic education. The government grants access to schooling and basic public health facilities for registered refugees. When UNHCR ceased providing assistance to the Shousha camp for refugees from Libya in 2013, the camp still housed more than 300 persons who had been denied refugee status. In 2014 the Tunisian Red Crescent counted 98 persons residing in the camp. Of these, 45 were registered refugees who had refused resettlement within the country. The remaining 53 were not granted asylum status and continued to appeal that decision. In October 2014 the government dismantled the Shousha camp; however, UNHCR still provided services to the refugees resettled in homes in Gabes and Medenine. According to press reports, there were approximately 50 refugees and economic migrants still occupying the Shousha camp as of November, the majority of whom were from sub-Saharan countries. UNHCR said that the individuals who chose to remain in the Shousha camp after its dismantlement failed to meet refugee status and fell under the responsibility of the government. According to the Red Crescent, most Shousha occupants turned down temporary housing offered by the government and refused to be regularized in the country. Aid organizations reported that some applied for working papers but had not received a response from the government.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future