Tunisia’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to pass the country’s new anti-terror law after a pair of devastating attacks against tourists, but critics fear the new legislation may endanger the North African nation’s hard-won freedoms.
Alone among the countries that underwent the 2011 uprisings of the Arab Spring, Tunisia emerged with a democracy, but amid a rise in attacks by Islamic radicals, the new government is increasingly considering stability and security over personal freedoms.
“There are many holes in the law that could open the way to human rights violations,” said a statement by coalition of Tunisian 10 civil society groups, including the bar association, the journalists’ union and several rights groups.
The law, which had languished in parliament for years and was approved late Friday, was fast-tracked after gunmen in March attacked the national museum in Tunis and killed 21 foreign tourists. Three months later, another gunman attacked a resort in Sousse killing 38 tourists, mostly Britons.
Since then, the government has mobilized 100,000 additional army and police units around the country, including 3,000 dedicated to guarding hotels and tourist sites.
As the law was being debated, Tunisian police and military forces carried out a string of raids on homes across the country, arresting 16 people in the province of Bizerte on Thursday, killing one.
On Saturday, the government announced that further raids had been carried out in the capital, the resort town of Sousse as well as in the southern city of Sfax. Two suspected militants were also killed by police in the central city of Kasserine.
The new law, which replaces one from 2003, is meant to aid this battle while still respecting human rights, according to Abada Kefi of the parliament’s legislation committee, who described it as “a balanced law.”
While 176 deputies voted for it, 10 abstained and none voted against, some lawmakers have expressed reservations.
“The political wrangling will affect religious rights and freedom of expression,” said Sahbi Atig, a member of the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party who feared it would affect the “achievements of the revolution.”
The new law raises the amount of time police can hold a suspect without charge and without contact with a lawyer from six days to 15.
Death is the maximum penalty for terrorism, including disseminating information that results in the loss of life in terror attacks. Terrorism can also be defined as damaging public and private property during a demonstration.
Outrage over the attacks, which crippled Tunisia’s vital tourism industry, swept aside reservations over the anti-terror legislation.
A study by the International Crisis Group, released as the law was being debated, contended that reforming the security services would be more effective than harsher penalties in combatting terrorism.
The report said Tunisia’s police suffered from corruption, brutality and poor organization.
Without a reform to improve the training and conduct of police, “Tunisia will continue to stumble from crisis to crisis as its regional environment deteriorates and political and social tensions increase, at the risk of sinking into chaos or a return to dictatorship,” said the report.