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'Psychological torture' on rise in Tunisia: rights group

A handout picture provided by the press service of Tunisian presidency shows President Kais Saied casting his ballot near Tunis on December 17, 2022   -  
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Tunisia has witnessed an upsurge in the ill-treatment of President Kais Saied's opponents since he seized power in 2021, in what amounts to "psychological torture", a rights group said Tuesday (Jan. 23).

Saied froze parliament and seized far-reaching executive powers on July 25, 2021 in what critics have called a "coup" and an attack on the only democracy to have emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings more than a decade ago.

Following the 2011 fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, incidents of torture instigated by the political leadership in Tunis had reduced, said Helene Legeay of the World Organisation Against Torture.

But since Saied's power grab, such ill-treatment had been "extended to political opponents" of the Tunisian leader, she said.

"What concerns us enormously is the rise in recent years of what could be described as psychological torture, or at the very least ill-treatment perpetrated against people under police surveillance.

"It manifests itself in the form of arbitrary restrictions of freedoms, renewed restrictions, through house arrest, travel bans... police visits," said Legeay.

"And this forms a torturous environment that is increasingly present in Tunisia.

"It's coming back more and more; we're seeing institutionalised torture and ill-treatment in protests," she said, citing the violent suppression of demonstrations in 2020 and 2021.

Legeay said the security forces largely enjoyed "impunity", offering "tacit consent" for the targeting of "protesters, political opponents... and members of the LGBTQ community."

Tunisia was "progressing a little bit", with the judiciary hearing more trials in cases of violence involving security forces and some convictions recorded, she said.

However, Tunisia has yet to suspend or put in jail anyone accused of committing such offences, she added.

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