Tunisian prisons becoming places of 'medieval torture'

Tunisian prisons becoming places of 'medieval torture'
A human rights group has called on Tunisian authorities to address torture and poor conditions in prisons, with some jails double their capacity due to emergency law.
3 min read
07 October, 2016
The emergency law in Tunisia has caused severe overcrowding in its prisons [Cover]
A human rights group has condemned widespread torture in Tunisian prisons saying staff are guilty of "medieval" and "brutal" practices.

Cells have become overcrowded with diseases and insect-infested beds common, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor has claimed.

Tunisian prisons are holding almost twice as many prisoners as they should, while torture is becoming widespread.

Euro-Med said the overcrowding was down to "excessive preventive detention" due to the emergency law, which has seen a surge in civilian arrests on the premise of counter terrorism.

"In light of these appalling conditions within the prisons, we are gravely concerned with the repetitive extension of emergency law in Tunisia," said Euro-Med researcher Yahya Ashraf.

The emergency law came into effect in November 2015 after a deadly Islamic State group attack on the presidential guard.

The law allows the authorities to ban strikes and meetings that might "provoke or maintain disorder", to temporarily close theatres and bars, and to "take every measure to secure control of the press and all types of publications".

The state of emergency is now in its eleventh month, having been extended for the sixth time in September.

Read more: Brainwashing central: Tunisian prisons a hotbed for jihadist radicalisation

Sixty percent of detainees are awaiting trial or sentencing, which is the main reason for the severe overcrowding, Euro-Med said.

Inmates often sleep on floors or two to a bed, causing conflict and spreading various diseases.

Additional problems caused by overcrowding include violence, theft and drug abuse.

Statistics show 2,000 inmates convicted of committing terrorist acts are housed among those behind bars for relatively minor crimes, which facilitates radicalisation, Euro-Med added.

Most prisons also have poor ventilation and light, toilets located in the cramped cells, and dirt and insect-infested floors and mattresses.

The number of Tunisian inmates swelled to more than 25,000 in 27 facilities last year, including 19 "preventive detention" centres and eight jails, far exceeding their capacity of 16,000 beds.

This year the total is 53,300 prisoners and detainees with Tunisia now hosting the fourth largest prison population in the Arab world.

The Geneva-based human rights organisation has called for Tunisian authorities to take action against multiple human rights violations.

"The increased security threats against Tunisia should not be an excuse to return to the brutal methods practiced in the past, including torture," said Ashraf.

"We are pleased the Tunisian authorities have begun enforcing a law allowing a lawyer to accompany accused individuals during investigations, but this action is not sufficient. New laws are needed to ensure rights during detention and imprisonment.

"Prisons are meant to be rehabilitation centers more than punishment centers, particularly when crimes are relatively minor. It's time to stop these medieval practices."