c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits such practices, police reportedly subjected detainees to harsh physical treatment, according to firsthand accounts provided to national and international organizations. Several prominent local human rights lawyers decried the practice of torture in police stations and detention centers. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the government for its application of the antiterrorism law, the appearance of impunity for abusers, and for reluctance to investigate torture allegations. In a presentation for the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in Tunis on June 27, the National Authority for the Prevention of Torture (INPT) stated that abuse and ill treatment of detainees in police and National Guard detention centers has continued despite an overall decrease in instances of torture in prisons.
According to a poll conducted by the INPT in 2017, 14.4 percent of Tunisians reported they had experienced cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by public authorities during their lifetimes, while 3.3 percent reported having been a victim of an act of torture committed by a public official.
On February 22, police arrested Ameur Balaazi in Ben Arous (a suburb of Tunis) on suspicion of being involved in a carjacking. Through his lawyer, Balaazi alleged that the officers tortured him after his arrest, prompting the prosecutor for Ben Arous to authorize the INPT to conduct its own investigation. Shortly thereafter, the INPT published its findings, including a medical report and photographs showing that Balaazi had suffered injuries to different parts of his body. In the days that followed, three police officers were arrested and charged with torture, only to be released after police unions staged a protest at the court where the officers were being arraigned. Several prominent national lawyers’ and judges’ associations immediately published communiques condemning the police unions’ actions, arguing that the officers’ presence served to intimidate the judiciary and undermine its independence. As of September the case remained open.
According to the OCTT, on April 11, 16-year-old Mohamed Louay was arrested in Tunis for delinquency and taken to a nearby police station. Louay’s lawyer later contended that the authorities conducted a preliminary interrogation without his legal guardian or his lawyer, violating Louay’s legal rights. The day after his arrest, Louay’s mother was charged with insulting an officer during the exercise of his duties following an altercation when she was denied access to see him. She was subsequently sentenced to one year in prison, although she remained free pending an appeal. On April 16, Louay informed his mother that after his arrest, he was handcuffed, placed in solitary confinement, and physically assaulted by police officers. His mother filed a complaint for torture, leading the INPT to initiate an investigation into Louay’s case and to seek medical attention for him. As of September Louay remained in detention awaiting his trial.
Media reported that on June 8, a police officer and two friends sodomized a 32-year-old man in Monastir governorate using a police baton. The man filed a complaint with his local police station, which the LGBTI rights Shams Association published online. According to media reports, after the man filed a complaint against the officers, authorities requested that he undergo an anal examination to collect evidence with which to charge him with violating Article 230, which criminalizes sodomy. Police officers reportedly escorted the man to the examination room. As of September there was no verdict on his case.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions were below international standards, principally due to overcrowding and poor infrastructure.
Physical Conditions: As of September the following prisons had high rates of overcrowding: Morneg (148 percent), Kairouan (80 percent), Sfax (47 percent), and Monastir (70 percent).
The law requires pretrial detainees to be held separately from convicted prisoners, but the Ministry of Justice reported that overcrowding forced it to hold pretrial detainees together with convicts. The prison system lacked sufficient resources to transport detainees to court hearings securely.
Most prisons were originally constructed for industrial use and then converted into detention facilities, and, as a result, suffered from poor infrastructure, including substandard lighting, ventilation, and heating.
Of the country’s 27 prisons, one is designated solely for women, and five prisons contain separate wings for women (Sawaf, Harboub, Gafsa, Messadine, and El Kef). The Ministry of Justice has five juvenile centers located in Mejaz El Bab, Meghira, El Mourouj, Souk El Jedid, and Sidi El Hani. Minor convicts were strictly separated from adults; the majority of minors were detained in separate correctional facilities or rehabilitation programs.
Health services available to inmates were inadequate. Very few prisons had an ambulance or medically equipped vehicle. Officials mentioned they lacked equipment necessary for the security of guards, other personnel, and inmates.
Administration: According to prison officials, lengthy criminal prosecution procedures led to extended periods of pretrial detention, understaffing at prisons and detention centers, difficult work conditions, and low pay.
Authorities allowed prisoners to receive one family visit per week. A minority of adult prisoners reportedly had access to educational and vocational training programs, due to limited capacity.
As part of the Ministry of Justice’s rehabilitation program for countering violent extremism (CVE), the Directorate General for Prisons and Rehabilitation (DGPR) has a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Religious Affairs to permit vetted and trained imams to lead religious sessions with prisoners who were classified as extremists, in an effort to deradicalize their religious beliefs. As part of CVE measures, organized, communal prayers were prohibited, but prisons permitted individual detainees to have religious materials and to pray in their cells.
The INPT, an administratively independent body established in 2013 to respond to allegation of torture and mistreatment, reported increasing cooperation by government authorities and improved access to prisons and detention centers during the year. Its members have the authority to visit any prison or detention center without prior notice and at any time to document torture and mistreatment, to request criminal and administrative investigations, and to issue recommendations for measures to eradicate torture and mistreatment.
On February 27, INPT released its first public investigation report on alleged torture of a suspect by police in Ben Arous.
Independent Monitoring: The government granted access to prisons for independent nongovernmental observers, including local and international human rights groups, NGOs, local media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the OCTT. The Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) may conduct unannounced prison visits and issue reports about conditions inside prisons. On September 5, the LTDH signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Interior to permit unannounced LTDH visits to all detention facilities under ministry control. Other organizations were issued a permit after a case-by-case examination of their requests.
Improvements: The DGPR continued to renovate and build new prisons to manage the prison population and improve the conditions of confinement. In April the minister of justice and director general of the DGPR inaugurated a new wing in the Messadine prison, with capacity for approximately 200 inmates.
The Ministry of Justice and the DGPR refurbished many prisons and added a new health-care center to one, increasing their capacity to accommodate additional inmates in new wings of the prisons in Sfax, Mahdia, Monastir, Messadine Sousse, and Borj el Roumi.
In an effort to reduce the potential for violence and mistreatment of detainees by prison staff, early in the year, the DGPR established an Emergency Response Unit composed of 200 law enforcement officers who are to be trained to intervene peacefully in significant security events within the prison system.
Throughout the year, the DGPR trained prison officials on a code of ethics and emergency management. The DGPR also opened a prison legal aid office and mental health unit in Messadine Sousse Prison. In addition, the DGPR began to classify inmates according to their level of threat, enabling prisoners to have access to vocational programs according to their classification.