It never fails to dismay when Tunisia hits the headlines for human rights reasons.
There is a bitter irony in the realization that the state’s human rights record is every bit as ugly as the land is beautiful.
For as the following Human Rights Watch article reveals, behind the sculpted boulevards and beyond the golden shorelines, there remains forever the dark shadow of a government that cannot quite shake its insecurity.
And akin to all insecure governments, it seeks its solace in security:
The Tunisian government has also proved itself more than willing to get its hands dirty when it perceives a threat to its power. The National Union of Tunisian Journalists (NSTJ), the only legally authorized independent union outside the UGTT following its inception in 2007, earned Ben Ali’s ire in 2009, when its leaders announced that the union would remain neutral in that year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The authorities retaliated by concocting an elaborate plan to oust the union’s president and his board and replace them with pro-government journalists.
The government resorted to a barrage of bribery, threats, and blackmail aimed at convincing journalists in the union to sign a petition calling for the board’s dismissal. Newspaper owners were threatened with the withdrawal of paid government announcements unless their employees complied. […] Many journalists who refused to support the coup were fired.
That is the national press.
Let us not forget the bloggers.
Predictably, question anyone in Tunisia about the government’s iron grip and the response is unanimous: “Tunisia is the most democratic country […] The government is kind and generous […] Ben Ali is the best leader…” and so it goes on.
Standard fear of tyrannical government fare, then.
On the rare occasions that individuals do acknowledge state oppression, it is characterized by the hushed tone and accompanying darting eyes.
The report is then, a renewed blow at the marvellous facade Tunisia has constructed vis-a-vis human rights.
But as Human Rights Watch observes, our support should be going to those plucky advocates who are struggling from within.
Every day tourists pour in from all over the world to flip-flop through the white-washed streets quaffing ice-cream – all oblivious to the abrogation beyond.
And therein lies the chill of that scenario.
Read the full report, The Myth of a Moderate Tunisia, here.