- A large number of political prisoners have been released by a presidential pardon in Tunisia. While human rights groups and cooperating foreign governments today have welcomed the move, they however emphasise that there are still several hundreds of political prisoners in Tunisia.
The government of Tunisia yesterday released a number of prisoners, many of whom have been described by independent observers as political prisoners, as part of a Ramadan pardon issued by President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. Most of those released are apparently members and sympathisers of the unauthorised Islamist movement Ennahda and had been imprisoned for over a decade.
The human rights group Amnesty International today welcomed the release the Tunisian political prisoners but the group said it was concerned that their release is conditional. Several of them are reportedly still detained in police centres, apparently pending clarification of additional charges against them, or the settlement of fines, while others have already been released and have returned to their families.
- As the releases were conditional, those released could be arrested and imprisoned again at any time to serve the remainder of their sentence, upon simple order by the Ministry of the Interior and without any judicial process, Amnesty said in a statement. The group was concerned that, in view of their conditional release, "they may be denied certain rights, including the right to freedom of expression and freedom of movement."
Most of those released Ennahda sympathisers are said to have been arrested, tortured and imprisoned after grossly unfair trials in the early 1990s. According to early reports, those released were predominantly prisoners whose prison terms would have come to an end in a matter of months.
Several hundreds of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, continue to be detained in Tunisia. Many have been imprisoned for over a decade and suffer from ill heath, others have been detained in solitary confinement, sometimes for years.
Amnesty today urged the Tunisian authorities to release all prisoners of conscience unconditionally and without further delay and to put an end to unfair trials. The group called on the government to "abide by its obligations under Tunisian laws and international human rights standards," in particular, regarding the freedom of expression and existing safeguards for fair trials must be respected.
The US government, a major ally of President Ben Ali, reacted in a similar way. A spokesman of the US State Department today welcomed the release of the political prisoners. The US government however encouraged Tunisian authorities to "grant amnesty to all political prisoners convicted or detained for activities not linked to violence or terrorism."
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