Parliamentary question by Olivier Dupuis (NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission

Parliamentary questions
by Olivier Dupuis (NI) to the Commission
(5 July 2002)

Subject: Hunger strike by Radhia Nasraoui

Since 26 June 2002 the lawyer Radhia Nasraoui, a Tunisian citizen, has been on hunger strike in protest against the arrest and imprisonment of her husband Hamma Hammami, spokesman for the banned Tunisian Communist Workers' Party (PCOT) and managing editor of the banned "El Badil" newspaper. Mr Hammami was given a prison sentence of three years and two months in a show trial, and has been held in the civilian prison in Tunis since 2 February 2002 because of his membership of the PCOT. Since his arrest Mr Hammami, who is being ill-treated and has suffered repeated violations of his rights, has been held in solitary confinement on "death row". He held a hunger strike in an attempt to secure a transfer to another wing. He has barely been allowed to meet his lawyers since his arrest. Mrs Nasraoui, his wife, has not been allowed to visit him since 6 April this year. The few visits from members of his family have been held under particularly strict conditions. Two sets of bars separate him from them and several guards are present. He has still not been able to see his daughter Sarra, who was born whilst he was living in hiding. His family has been subjected to constant and brutal harassment by the authorities. There was an attempt to kidnap his daughter Radhia, whilst his daughter Oussaima has been terrorised on several occasions by members of the secret police. His youngest daughter was under police surveillance outside her nursery school! On several occasions the family home has been broken into and "searched" by the forces of "law and order". None of the complaints on the subject lodged by Mrs Nasraoui have received any response. By going on hunger strike Mrs Nasraoui is trying to secure her husband's release and protesting against the physical and emotional torture suffered by her husband and the psychological torture inflicted on her children.

What information does the Commission have about the conditions in which Mr Hammami is being held? What practical steps has the Commission taken or does it intend to take to induce the Tunisian authorities to respect the fundamental rights of Mr Hammami, his family and all the prisoners of conscience held in Tunisia?

Finally, does the Commission not consider that in view of the numerous serious violations of fundamental rights committed by the regime of the dictator Ben Ali, it should reaffirm the importance it attaches to respect for the democratic principles contained in Article 2 of the Association Agreement with Tunisia, by unequivocally condemning the Tunisian dictatorship?

Joint answer to Written Questions E-1845/02 and P-2065/02
given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission
(26 July 2002)

The Commission is well informed by several sources about the current case of human rights violations in Tunisia, in particular the cases of Zouhair Yahyaoui and Radhia Nashraoui. In July 2002 the Commission raised in very clear terms, the problem of respect of fundamental human rights with several Tunisian Ministers and senior officials, of which the Tunisian Secretary of State to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Youssef Mokaddem.

However the Commission also intends to explore further means of actions together with the Member States.

In addition to its more traditional diplomatic contacts the Commission holds the complementary instrument of financial co-operation with Tunisian authorities, increasingly oriented towards promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Of particular relevance to this case, and of considerable long term impact, is a programme, currently in preparation, aiming at modernising the Tunisians judiciary.

In parallel Tunisia is one of 29 target countries within the European Initiative of Democracy and Human rights for the period 2002-2004. One of two main priorities defined for Tunisia is independence of the judiciary and access to justice (a call for proposals open to independent non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will be launched in September 2002).

Finally, the upcoming Association Committee (24 September 2002, in Tunis) will give the Commission the opportunity to continue its permanent political dialogue, comprising human rights and democracy, with the Tunisian government.