Summary and Current Status
Hamadi Jebali, an engineer and newspaper publisher, was conditionally released from prison by the Tunisian authorities during the weekend of February 25-26, 2006. Mr. Jebali had served 15 years of a 16-year sentence. Upon his release Mr. Jebali was quoted as saying that he spent 11 years in solitary confinement while he was in prison. According to Amnesty International, at any time and without any judicial process, the Minister of Justice could decide to put him under house arrest, place him “in a public or private institution,” or order his re-arrest to serve the remainder of his sentence.
Mr. Jebali received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tunisia and his master's degree in solar energy engineering from the University of Paris. He is one of the most prominent leaders of Ennahda (Renaissance), an Islamist political organization that has been outspoken in its criticism of Tunisian government policies. He served as a member of Ennahda’s executive council and as editor-in-chief of the organization’s weekly newspaper Al-Fajr (Dawn).
In the early 1990’s Tunisian authorities accused Mr. Jebali of misconduct in three separate cases, all of which involved the peaceful expression of his opinions. In the first instance, on October 10, 1990, Mr. Jebali received a six month suspended sentence and a fine of 1,500 dinars for “encouraging violation of the law” and “calling for insurrection.” He had published an article by Ennahda leader Rashid Ghanoushi entitled “The people of the State or the State of the People?” in the June 1990 issue of Al Fajr. In the article, Mr. Ghanoushi reportedly criticized the government for “not serving the people’s interest.” Under Article 13 of the 1975 Tunisian Press Code, prior authorization by the Ministry of Interior is required to publish any newspaper or periodical. Once authorization is granted, the Press Code requires that the first printed copy of each issue of a publication be submitted to the Ministry of Interior which can intervene to stop distribution. Al-Fajr’s publication was authorized in January 1990, but its June 1990 issue was seized and its distribution was stopped.
In the second case Mr. Jebali was arrested in November 1990 after publishing an article in Al-Fajr that called for the abolition of military courts in Tunisia and criticized their use in civilian cases. (The article, entitled “When will military courts, serving as special courts, be abolished?,” was written by Mohammed Nouri, a lawyer, who was also arrested.) Both Mr. Jebali and Mr. Nouri were charged with defamation of a judicial institution under Articles 50, 51, 68 and 69 of the Press Code. On January 31, 1991, Mr. Jebali was sentenced by the military court in Tunis to one year in prison. His sentence was confirmed by the Cassation Court on March 6, 1991.
In May 1991, seven months after Mr. Jebali's arrest, the government of Tunisia announced that it had uncovered a plot by Ennahda to stage a coup, assassinate President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and form an Islamic state. Mr. Jebali, who was behind bars at the time, was accused along with 170 other alleged Ennahda members of participation in the “attempted overthrow” of the Tunisian government and brought to trial for a third time on August 28, 1992, before the military court of Bouchoucha.
At the mass trial, Mr. Jebali reportedly began his testimony by showing marks on the bottoms of his feet and other areas of his body as evidence of torture he had endured. Contrary to Tunisia's obligations under international law, the court did not investigate Mr. Jebali's allegations of torture. Mr. Jebali also reportedly testified that he had no knowledge of the existence of a plan to kill the president or install a theocratic regime. It is the understanding of the CHR that the prosecution presented no evidence during the trial that linked Mr. Jebali to the alleged coup plot. Furthermore, it is widely believed that the Tunisian government failed to show compelling evidence that a coup plot had even existed.
Observers from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Human Rights Law Group, and the Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights attended the trial. They concluded that it fell far short of international standards of fairness, promulgated in Article 14 of the UN International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, which Tunisia ratified in 1983. Reports by these reputable international human rights organizations found that lawyers were not given timely and complete access to their clients or the documents used by the prosecution (including statements made by their clients while in detention), defendants were not allowed to attend all phases of their own trial, and the majority of the defendants claimed that their confessions to the police, which formed the basis of evidence used by the state to support its claims of the existence of a coup plot, had been extracted under torture while held in garde à vue incommunicado detention.
On August 28, 1992, Mr. Jebali was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment for “belonging to an illegal organization” and “attempting to change the nature of the state.” In September 1992, the Tunisian Cassation Court confirmed this verdict on procedural grounds. Amnesty International adopted Mr. Jebali as a prisoner of conscience, “imprisoned for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression.”
Various reports indicate that Mr. Jebali was held under harsh conditions of confinement throughout his imprisonment, including long periods in solitary confinement, inadequate medical attention, and limited family visits. To protest poor prison conditions and his unjust imprisonment, Mr. Jebali went on several hunger strikes, two of which each lasted 36 days. During one month-long hunger strike in January and February 2003, the home of Mr. Jebali’s wife, Wahida Trabelsi, and his daughters was reportedly under constant surveillance, and their passports were confiscated.
Mr. Jebali was one of some 1,600 detainees who were released from prison by the Tunisian authorities during the weekend of February 25-16, 2006, to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from France. Among the released were 75 political prisoners, including Mr. Jebali, who had been imprisoned for more than a decade because of their membership in Ennahda.