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Tunisian rights groups say freedoms threatened under Saied's rule

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Freedoms in Tunisia are being threatened under the rule of President Kais Saied and the authorities are using the judiciary and police to punish their opponents, 10 local rights groups said at a joint conference on Saturday.

A person holds up a baguette as supporters of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) protest against President Kais Saied, accusing him of trying to stifle basic freedoms, including union rights, in Tunis, March 4, 2023. Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi

Freedoms in Tunisia are being threatened under the rule of President Kais Saied and the authorities are using the judiciary and police to punish their opponents, 10 local rights groups said at a joint conference on Saturday.

Police this month arrested 10 people, including lawyers, activists, journalists and officials of civil society groups, in what was described as a crackdown by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who called on the authorities to respect Tunisians' right to free speech and civil liberties.

And last week thousands of lawyers took strike action after police for a second time raided the Bar Association's headquarters and arrested two lawyers - after which the Association said one of the two had been tortured, an allegation strongly denied by the Interior Ministry.

Marking the 47th anniversary of the formation of the Tunisian Human Rights League, the 10 rights groups called at the conference in Tunis for a united front against what they called an unprecedented attack on freedoms.

Officials of the UGTT union, Human Rights League and the Bar Association said Tunisians would not accept the loss of free speech and civil rights.

No one at the Interior Ministry could immediately be contacted for comment. President Saied has repeatedly said freedoms are guaranteed and that the law applies to everyone.

Saied, who came to power following free elections in 2019 and two years later shut down the elected parliament and moved to rule by decree, says his steps aim to end years of chaos and corruption.

But political opponents say freedoms including freedom of the press face serious threats under Saied's rule.

"We have become worryingly afraid for gains that we thought were irreversible. In one year we have 41 journalists prosecuted by the judiciary. We have four journalists in prison", Zied Dabbar, president of the national journalists syndicate, told the conference on Saturday.

Reporting by Tunisian newsroom

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