Summary and Current Status
On November 28, 2001, after a government imposed travel ban was lifted several weeks earlier, Moncef Marzouki flew to France and accepted a position as associate professor of public health at the University of Bobigny.
Dr. Marzouki had been sentenced on December 30, 2000, to eight months in prison on charges of belonging to an illegal association and to four additional months for spreading false information. According to Amnesty International, his one-day trial failed to meet international fair trial standards. After Dr. Marzouki refused to appeal the verdict - claiming that, because the Tunisian judiciary is not independent, he would be denied a fair hearing - the government of Tunisia appealed the verdict on the grounds that Dr. Marzouki's sentence was too lenient. Dr. Marzouki remained at liberty during the appeal process. On September 29, 2001, the Court of Appeal of Tunis heard the government's appeal, and, rather than acceding to the government's request for a harsher sentence, it suspended Dr. Marzouki's sentence and subsequently lifted a ban on his travel.
Dr. Marzouki, who was born in 1945, is a former professor of public health at Sousse University. The Tunisian authorities repeatedly harassed him over some 15 years for his peaceful criticism of the government's human rights record. In 1996, during the NAS annual meeting, Dr. Marzouki spoke at the CHR's 20th anniversary symposium. Upon his return to Tunisia, he was arrested at the Tunis airport and interrogated for several hours about reportedly meeting, in Paris, with religious fundamentalists, while en route to Tunisia from Washington. His passport was confiscated before he was released. According to Dr. Marzouki, his telephone and fax lines were subsequently disconnected, his mail was routinely intercepted, and he was prevented from carrying out many of his professional duties at the government university and hospital in Sousse.
In January 1998, Dr. Marzouki's brother, Mohamed Ali Bèdoui, was sentenced to six months in prison on what Amnesty International termed "spurious charges". This government harassment of Mr. Bèdoui appeared to be aimed at further intimidating and punishing Dr. Marzouki for his outspoken criticism of human rights abuses in Tunisia. In 1998 Dr. Marzouki founded, along with several other Tunisians, the National Council on Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT). The CNLT is a peaceful human rights organization that works to protect and promote the fundamental liberties and basic human rights of Tunisians. The Tunisian government rejected the CNLT's application for legal status in early 1999.
In June of that year Dr. Marzouki reportedly was taken into custody by four plainclothes policemen, who neither identified themselves nor presented an arrest warrant. He was held in secret detention at the Ministry of Interior until his release two days later. He was charged with "maintaining an illegal association, defaming public institutions, and distributing information capable of disturbing public order." Dr. Marzouki appeared before an investigative magistrate in November 1999, but no trial date was set.
According to Dr. Marzouki, in early June 2000, after his passport was returned to him, he requested a two-week leave of absence from the University of Sousse. He said that "the term was finished and [he] had several months of unused leave." His request was refused. Dr. Marzouki then secured a medical recommendation that he take time off for health reasons. In late June 2000 he traveled to France and the United States, where he had meetings with government officials, journalists, professional associations, and human rights organizations, as well as the CHR. During Dr. Marzouki's visit to the CHR's offices, he said that he had left his university position to travel abroad without permission and that he thus anticipated being fired upon his return. Soon after his return to Tunisia, on July 5, 2000, and shortly after President Ben Ali publicly condemned critics of the Tunisian government and accused them of being "involved in a smear campaign against Tunisia abroad," Dr. Marzouki was dismissed from his university post by the Ministry of Health. Two days earlier, Dr. Marzouki had been summoned to answer charges that the medical recommendation that he used to obtain permission to travel abroad "was fraudulent and that he traveled without permission."
On October 23, 2000, Dr. Marzouki appeared before an investigating judge on charges of "spreading false information liable to disturb public order" as a result of a paper he presented at an October 2000 meeting in Morocco which was critical of the human rights situation in Tunisia. He was also charged with "maintaining an unauthorized association" for his role as CNLT spokesperson. On December 30, 2000, Dr. Marzouki was found guilty of both offenses at a trial that Amnesty International said failed to meet international fair trial standards. Although he was sentenced to one year in prison, Dr. Marzouki remained at liberty pending the government's appeal on grounds that the sentence was too lenient. The Court of Appeal of Tunis formally suspended Dr. Marzouki's prison sentence on September 29, 2001. According to his lawyer, however, Dr. Marzouki would lose certain civil rights, including the right to stand for election to public office and to travel.
On October 6, 2001, Dr. Marzouki attempted to board a plane to Paris but the government would not allow him to leave the country. However, shortly thereafter, the government lifted its travel ban. On November 28, 2001, Dr. Marzouki flew to Paris and accepted a position as an associate professor in public health at the University of Bobigny in Paris.