Sarkozy praise for Tunisian rights 'progress' sparks outrage

30th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

Nicolas Sarkozy's remark that "the sphere of liberties" in Tunisia is improving sparked outrage among human rights groups.

  April 30, 2008 - French President Nicolas Sarkozy's remark that "the sphere of liberties" in Tunisia is improving sparked outrage Tuesday among human rights groups and the Socialist opposition in France who accuse the North African state of torturing dissidents and blocking press freedoms.

   "His unacceptable declaration has led him to legitimise the Tunisian
regime's policy of repression," said Razzy Hammadi, the national secretary of
the French Socialist party.

   The French president has "sent a signal with very serious and dramatic
consequences" for all human rights activists in the former French protectorate
where Sarkozy is on a two-day state visit, said Hammadi in a statement.

   Sarkozy's statement was a "stab in the back of the Tunisian activists who
were expecting a lot from the visit of the French president," who upon coming
to power vowed to put human rights at the heart of his foreign policy, said
the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) media rights group.

   "Freedom of expression remains a utopia in Tunisia. All the press does is
glorify the work of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and independent
journalists and their families are the victims of constant harrassment," it

   Sarkozy, in Tunisia to clinch nuclear and aviation deals and push his plan
for a Mediterranean Union, said there Monday that "today, the sphere of
liberties (in Tunisia) is progressing".

   "These are encouraging signs that I wish to salute," added the French
leader at a dinner with his Tunisian counterpart, whose government denies
breaching human rights.

   "These signals, these reforms are part of a narrow and difficult but
essential path, that of liberty and the respect of individiauls. No country
can claim to have fully taken it and nobody can position himself as censor."

   Khadija Cherif, of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, said:
"Sarkozy is not interested in the reality of the country.

   "His priority is commerce, but he should know that development cannot be
purely economic," she told AFP, adding that Sarkozy's comments were a "sign of
contempt for Tunsian civil society."

   Mokhtar Trifi, of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, noted that
"unfortunately, on the ground, we have not noticed any notable changes, it is
perhaps the opposite that it happening in reality today".

   France's Secretary of State for Human Rights Rama Yade, who is travelling
with Sarkozy, was scheduled to meet both Trifi and Cherif on Tuesday.

   For its part, the influentual Le Monde newspaper in Paris said in an
editorial that Sarkozy's claim that rights were improving in Tunisia was a

   "In a country where the presdient installs himself in power for life, has
his opponents beaten up by thugs, imprisoned and even tortured, and who only
tolerates a press at his service, 'the sphere of liberty' is regressing," it

   The London-based human rights group Amnesty International last November
issued a stinging statement to mark the 20th anniversary of Ben Ali's arrival
at the presidency.

   "President Ben Ali's two decades in office have been marred by a continuing
pattern of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and curbs on freedom of expression and association," it said.

   The New York-based Human Rights Watch was equally damning in a periodic
review of Tunisia published this month.

   "The government uses the threat of terrorism and religious extremism as a
pretext to crack down on peaceful dissent," it wrote.

   "There are continuous and credible reports of torture and ill-treatment being used to obtain statements from suspects in custody. Sentenced prisoners
also face deliberate ill-treatment."

[AFP / Expatica]

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