MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Tunisian mineworkers jailed after "travesty of justice"

Published by MAC on 2008-12-22

Draconian prison sentences have been imposed on workers in the Gafsa region of Tunisia, after recent protests against living and working conditions in the country's phosphate mining belt. See http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=8922 Amnesty International is calling for the immediate release of all those who were simply "exercising peacefully their right to freedom of expression and assembly".


Tunisia: Trial of trade union leaders a travesty of justice

Amnesty International

12th December 2008

Amnesty International is calling on the Tunisian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those arrested and tried for exercising peacefully their right to freedom of expression and assembly.

Others should be retried in fair proceedings in line with Tunisia's international obligations.

The organization issued its appeal after yesterday's unfair trial proceedings of 38 trade leaders and protestors for their involvement in demonstrations in the Gafsa area.

"The verdict and sentences have been a subversion of justice and they should not be allowed to stand," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Programme Director at Amnesty International.

A Gafsa Court handed down prison terms of up to 10 years against 33 trade union activists and protesters who were accused of leading the unrest against unemployment and high living costs in the first half of this year in the phosphate-rich Gafsa region in south-east Tunisia. Four were tried in absentia.

Charges included "forming a criminal group with the aim of destroying public and private property" and "armed rebellion and assault on officials during the exercise of their duties". They were among the hundreds arrested after the wave of protests in Gafsa.

"The Tunisian authorities must immediately stop criminalizing social protest. Instead of trying peaceful protesters and trade unionists, the authorities should investigate the allegations of torture previously raised by the defendants," added Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Amnesty International is concerned that serious violations of fair trial standards have been committed, including that the defence lawyers were not able to present the case of their clients; the defendants were not interrogated in court and the demands of the lawyers that their clients be medically examined for trace of possible torture and to call and cross-examine witnesses were rejected by the court.

Yesterday's verdict came amid reports of a heavy security presence. Security forces were deployed along the roads leading to the court as well as in main access roads to the city of Gafsa. The roads leading to the court were said to have been barred by the security forces who prevented a number of human rights activists from reaching the court.

"The trial raises yet again questions as to the independence of the judiciary in Tunisia and shows the Tunisian authorities' determination to quell any independent voices inside the country," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

The leader of trade union and spokesperson for the Movement of Social Protest in Gafsa, Adnan Hajji was sentenced, along with six others, to 10 years' imprisonment in the trial. The rest received prison sentences ranging from two to six years, including at least eight suspended sentences. Journalist Fahem Boukadous and France-based human rights activist Mouheiddine Cherbib, received, respectively, six and two years in absentia. Five others were acquitted and are yet to be released.


Tunisian trade union leader on trial for role in protests

Amnesty Internatinoal

4th December 2008

A trade union leader and 37 others face trial in Tunisia on Thursday, accused of fomenting unrest during protests earlier this year in the Gafsa region. Adnan Hajji, Secretary General of local office of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) in Redeyef, and his co-accused face charges including "forming a criminal group with the aim of destroying public and private property".

If convicted, they could face up to more than ten years of imprisonment. At least six of 38 accused are to be tried in their absence.

The phosphate-rich Gafsa region, in south-east Tunisia, was wracked by a wave of popular protests in the first half of this year. They began in the town of Redeyef after the region's major employer, the Gafsa Phosphate Company, announced the results of a recruitment competition.

These results were denounced as fraudulent by those who were unsuccessful and others, including the UGTT, and the protests, which developed into a more general protest about high unemployment and rising living costs, then spread to other towns as the authorities deployed large numbers of police and other security forces into the region.

Hundreds of protestors were arrested and more than 140 have been charged with offences, some of whom have been convicted and sentenced to jail terms.

Amnesty International has called on the Tunisian government to order an independent investigation into allegations of torture and other abuses by security forces when quelling the protests.

In a letter to Tunisia's Minister of Justice and Human Rights Béchir Tekkari, Amnesty International called for the authorities to disclose the outcome of an official investigation. The organization said the investigation had been set up after police opened fire on demonstrators on 6 June 2008, killing one man and injuring others, sparking allegations that police had used excessive force.

The letter also detailed cases in which people suspected of organizing or participating in protests are reported to have been detained and tortured by police. The police are accused of forcing them to sign incriminating statements that could be used against them at trial and falsified their arrest dates in official records.

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