Tunisia’s parliament has voted overwhelmingly to pass the country’s new anti-terror law despite fears by rights groups that it could be abused and threaten the fledgling democracy.
In a late-night session Friday, 174 deputies voted for the legislation, 10 abstained and no one voted against it – a sign of the perceived urgency for the law after Tunisia was battered by devastating attacks on tourists in March and then again June.
The law replaces legislation from 2003 and is designed to facilitate efforts to combat terrorism, but rights groups fear it will give impunity to security forces and sacrifice the achievements of the 2011 revolution for the sake of stability.
”The Tunisian authorities are rightly concerned about the growing influence of individuals and extremist groups and the threat they pose to their citizens and foreigners,” said Eric Goldstein of Human Rights Watch. ”However, laws to fight against terrorism should respect and not violate the international standards of human rights.”
Ten Tunisian human rights groups expressed reservations about the law, especially its vague definition of terror, use of capital punishment and the doubling of the amount of time police can hold prisoners incommunicado to 15 days.
Tunisians overthrew a secular dictatorship in 2011, kicking off region wide pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring.
Alone of all those countries, Tunisia has emerged with a democracy, but has since been tested by a rise in attacks by Islamic radicals.
In the past few months, militants have switched their focus from attacking security forces to foreign tourists, killing 21 in March attack in Tunis and then last month 38 died at a beach resort.
Outrage over the attacks swept aside reservations over the anti-terror law and set it on a fast track after months of delays.