Magazine article The Middle East

Tunisia: Tough New Laws on Terror

Magazine article The Middle East

Tunisia: Tough New Laws on Terror

Article excerpt

In the wake of a spate of deadly terrorist attacks in Tunisia this year, the democratically-elected Tunisian Parliament has adopted a new anti-terror law aiming to counter any future threats from Islamist militants and extremists. The introduction of this law is harsh and a step back in Tunisia's ongoing journey to democratisation. However, the Prime Minister, Habib Essid (below), maintains that the law is a necessary step forward in order to tackle the rise of terrorist activity in Tunisia.

The legislation comes after the attack that claimed the lives of 38 tourists, 30 of whom were British, on June 26th on a beach resort in Sousse, a heavily tourist populated region in Tunisia. The terrorist organisation ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack, and isn't their first attack in Tunisia. Back in March, ISIS took responsibility for an attack on the Bardo Museum in the capital of Tunis, leaving 21 tourists dead. These two attacks have had a significant effect on Tunisia's tourism sector, which provides roughly 400,000 jobs to Tunisians and accounts for 14.5% of Tunisia's GDP.

The legislation re-introduces the death penalty for those convicted of terrorism charges and jail sentences for those whom express support for terrorism. The bill also provides an increase in phone tapping powers for investigators and authorities. Suspects of terror offences can also be detained for up to 15 days without access to a lawyer; which inevitably minimizes their lawyers' ability to put forward an effective defence. This comprehensive increase in power, bestowed to authorities, has been heavily criticized among sectors of Tunisian society. The bill has been debated in parliament for many years, but was only put forward following the recent attacks. The legislation was rushed to parliament too quickly to have a proper debate with adequate scrutiny. After just three days of debate, the bill passed with 174 votes (at least 109 votes were needed to pass it) and only ten abstentions. With the bill now in law, it will act as Tunisia's new counter-terrorism strategy.

Tunisia, a rare success story of the Arab Spring, has been in a peaceful transition to democracy ever since the overthrow of President Ben Ali, however, many NGOs and advocacy groups have condemned the legislation, arguing instead that it threatens the already fragile democratic structure of Tunisia. …

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