Creation of the Tunisian Coalition Against the Death Penalty
The representatives of the seven NGOs who met in Tunis on 14 June have announced the creation of the Tunisian National Coalition Against the Death Penalty. “The coalition will work towards creating the momentum for abolishing capital punishment in Tunisia where more than 100 death-sentenced prisoners are stagnating in prisons, awaiting an alternative sentence”, said Mohamed Habib Marsit, President of the Tunisian section of Amnesty International, at the press conference organised at its offices.
The presence of foreign diplomats at this event, representing in particular the European Union, France, the United States, Great Britain and the Netherlands, was noted.
The founding NGOs have received the support of many artists, academics and well-known human rights activists in Tunisia and their alliance is not expected to stop there: “The Coalition is still open”, said Mohamed Habib Marsit.
Quick response to the Paris appeal
Tunisian abolitionists have thus answered the appeal launched by the World Coalition during the World Congress Against the Death Penalty held in Paris in February 2007. Its participants had been encouraged to form national and regional coalitions so as to encourage networking between sometimes isolated organisations fighting against capital punishment.
The Tunisian Coalition has based its operational charter on that of the World Coalition, giving itself the aim of “obtaining abolition of the death penalty in [its] country and taking a leading role by coordinating action to promote a large-scale civil movement supporting abolition and by taking action with the authorities for [its] country to rejoin the group of abolitionist States”.
No executions have been carried out in Tunisia since 1994 but the country nonetheless preserves the death penalty in its penal legislation and there are many sentenced prisoners awaiting possible execution. “We are first going to work towards obtaining a moratorium and improving the lot of these prisoners”, explained Mohamed Habib Marsit.
Icy welcome from the authorities
The Tunisian Government does not look kindly upon the creation of the Coalition. The day after it was launched, the police brought Mohamed Habib Marsit in and tried to make him sign a document in which he agreed to abandon all the Coalition’s activities.
According to the authorities, the Tunisian Coalition breaks the law and the operational rules of Amnesty International which stipulate neutrality with respect to the countries where the organisation is present.
But for the Tunisian members of the coalition their demands for legal development are not an attack on the Government.
Mokhtar Trifi, President of the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights, also clarified that, as all the founding organisations are legally recognised in Tunisia, their alliance is in no way illicit.
“Our action is totally legal. This is a politically issue”, summed up Zied El-Heni, member of the Steering Committee of the Association of Tunisian Journalists, a member of the Tunisian Coalition. The Tunisian Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Béchir Tekkari, said last March that it was “not yet time to abolish the death penalty”.