Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The Presidency of the Republic declared several extensions of a nationwide state of emergency, in effect since November 2015, when a suicide bomber attacked members of the Presidential Guard. The most recent extension was issued on October 18 for three months. The government previously ordered extensions of the state of emergency in January after widespread social unrest, in March following a terrorist attack in Ben Guerdan, and in June and July. Protests and clashes with security forces throughout the country started on January 16 in the governorate of Kasserine after the death of Yahyaoui. Local media reported that security forces used violence against protesters and arrested 1,105 persons, including 523 individuals accused of violating a nationwide curfew imposed on January 22.
On April 9, security forces violently dispersed a peaceful group of demonstrators of the General Union of Tunisian Students who were demanding jobs and prohibited them from demonstrating in front of the Prime Ministry.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The law provides for the right of freedom of association, but the government did not always respect it. A 2011 law on associations eliminated penalties in the previous law, as well as the prohibition on belonging to, or serving in, an unrecognized or dissolved association. The law eased the registration procedure, making it more difficult for government entities to hinder or delay registration. The International Observatory of Associations and International Development, an independent association that monitors the functioning of civil society, asserted the government was delaying registration of associations through unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, at times for political reasons, a practice counter to the law on associations.
According to the 2011 law, only the judiciary has the authority to suspend or dissolve an association. According to the Prime Ministry, during the period 2011-16, the government sent warnings to 805 associations and requested the suspension of 234 for violations of the law of associations. Courts suspended 112 of these associations and in four cases ordered the dissolution of the organizations. The Prime Ministry claimed that proper procedure was followed in all cases.
In November 2015 some members of parliament called for the dissolution of LGBTI-focused NGO Shams. On January 4, an administrative court suspended Shams’ activities pursuant to a government claim that the association had registered to advocate for the rights of “sexual minorities.” The government claimed that the Shams’ charter did not allow it to advocate explicitly for gay rights, since the charter only listed the purpose of the organization as advocating for the rights of “sexual minorities.” On February 24, an administrative court ruled in Shams’ favor, overturning the government’s complaint and allowing Shams to function legally; however, the government had not published the organization’s charter in the national gazette, leaving Shams unable to register for a bank account or conduct financial activities.
The government issued a ban of the annual conference of Islamist party Hizb Ettahrir scheduled for June 4, citing security reasons. An administrative court overturned the ban on June 3. On the morning of June 4, the governor of Tunis announced the closing of the venue until June 20, using powers granted to him under the state of emergency. The governor told media he took the decision “to avoid disturbing public order.” After several warnings to party leaders that the party violated Decree Law 88 of 2011 requiring that associations respect the rule of law and basic democratic principles and are prohibited from calling to violence, hatred, intolerance, or discrimination on a religious basis, the government suspended the activities of Hizb Ettahrir for 30 days beginning on August 15. On August 30, an administrative court overturned the suspension, citing “procedural problems” with the government’s case. On September 2, the government brought a criminal case against the party for inciting violence against the state, and the chief prosecutor referred the case to a military court. On September 20, members of Hizb Ettahrir refused to appear before the military court. The case remained pending as of December.