New terror law adopted in Tunisia

Friday 07/08/2015
Tunisian Justice Minister Mohamed Salah Ben Aissa (R) with his staff during a debate on July 24, 2015, at the Assembly of the Representatives of the People in Tunis. Next to him is Interior Minister Mohamed Najem Gharsalli.

Tunis - Since the end of July, initia­tives taken by Tunisian au­thorities seem to indicate that fighting terrorism is the number-one priority of the North African country.

After the adoption by parliament of new anti-terrorism legislation in late July, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi extended the state of emergency through early October.

On July 4th, eight days after a terror attack on the beach resort of Sousse, where 38 tourists were killed, Caid Essebsi declared a state of emergency for an initial period of 30 days.

Presidency spokesman Moez Sinaoui told Agence France-Presse that the state of emergency exten­sion was decided because Tunisia remained “at war against terror­ism”.

He added that the decision was not the result of a specific threat “but because the causes (of its ini­tial imposition) are still there”.

In justifying the declaration of the state of emergency, Caid Es­sebsi pointed out that Tunisia was facing an “imminent threat” of ter­ror attacks. He also mentioned the presence of jihadist havens in next-door Libya.

Attacks on the Bardo National Museum on March 18th and the Sousse Imperial Marhaba Hotel caused the death of 59 foreign tour­ists.

Following the Sousse attack, a number of European nations, in­cluding the United Kingdom, is­sued advice against travelling to Tunisia. The tourism sector, which provides 7% of the Tunisia’s gross domestic product, has suffered as a result of the attacks.

The blow to the tourism indus­try will be among key factors in the expected deterioration of the coun­try’s economic indicators. Tunisia’s economic growth is expected to slow to about 1% in 2015, compared to 2.3% in 2014.

At least in part as a result of public opinion pressure, Tunisia’s parliament approved the new anti-terrorism bill, which could lead to the death penalty for perpetrators of terrorism-related crimes. The law passed despite opposition from rights groups and a de facto quar­ter-century moratorium on execu­tions in Tunisia.

Among the offences punishable by death in the new legislation are the murder of foreign diplomats, the killing of hostages and commit­ting of rape during terrorism-relat­ed crimes.

The Tunisian government has implemented several additional security measures since the Sousse incident.

Among them is the mobilisation of 100,000 additional army and police personnel, including 3,000 dedicated to guarding hotels and tourist sites.

Investigations have led to the arrests of scores of terrorism sus­pects. Tunisia has started building a wall and trench system along 168 kilometres of its insecure frontier with Libya. Much like the Bardo museum terrorists, the Sousse gunman received training with militants in Libya before carrying out his attack.

While 176 deputies voted for the new bill, ten abstained and none voted against the measure. Those who abstained were severely criti­cised on social media.

The recent terrorist incidents have had a strong impact on the public mood. A July poll confirmed that a majority of Tunisians in­dicated they were seriously con­cerned about terrorism. More than 67% of respondents in an Emrhod Consulting survey said the risk of terrorism was high after the Sousse attack.

Big poll majorities backed drastic measures against terrorism with 78.4% of those asked expressing support for the imposition of the state of emergency. Only 14.7% said they opposed it.

Also, 72% said they approved the closing of mosques that are out­side the control of the government; 89% expressed support to the de­ployment of soldiers on beaches; 74% even said they would approve reconsidering authorisations al­ready granted to “certain political parties”. Salafist parties have pro­voked the wrath of the Tunisian public for their ultraconservative discourse and their use of jihadist-type black flags in public meetings.