في زمن الجائحة: محاولات متواصلة لتقييد حرية التعبير

الصورة الرئيسية: صورة متظاهر أمام مقر البرلمان بباردو، تونس، يوم 13 نوفمبر 2019. صورة لجورج غايل.

في زمن الجائحة: محاولات متواصلة لتقييد حرية التعبير

الاثنين، 20 أفريل، 2020

تونس – غاية بن مبارك وفاضل علي رزا
ترجمة: رانية سعيد

أعلنت الحكومة حظر التجول ليلا منذ 18 مارس وحجرت الخروج إلا عند الضرورة في يوم 22 مارس للتقليص من مخاطر جائحة الكورونا؛ ولكن ظروف الحجر الصحي هذه لم تمنع بعض المسؤولين من مواصلة محاولاتهم لتقييد حرية التعبير.
في يوم 29 مارس، قدم النائب مبروك كرشيد من حزب “تحيا تونس” مشروع قانون أمام البرلمان لفرض عقوبة بالسجن تصل إلى سنتين وخطية مالية ب20.000 دينار ضد كل من يرتكب جريمة التشهير الإلكتروني. ينادي مشروع القانون الذي حمل توقيع 46 نائب بمحاربة ما يسمى بالأخبار الزائفة، وينص على ضرورة مضاعفة العقوبة إذا ارتكب الفعل في فترة انتخابية أو إذا أخفى مرتكب الفعل هويته.

وفي يوم 30 مارس، أي بعد يوم فقط، وقعت 24 منظمة من منظمات المجتمع المدني على عريضة أدانت فيها موقف الجهات الراعية لمشروع القانون. وتم نشر العريضة على صفحة الجمعية التونسية للدفاع عن الحريات الفردية على الفايسبوك، والتي كانت هي أيضا من الموقعين على عريضة الاستنكار. وتشمل لائحة الموقعين العديد من المنظمات الحقوقية البارزة، على رأسها الاتحاد العام التونسي للشغل والنقابة الوطنية للصحفيين التونسيين.
تقول العريضة أن مشروع القانون يمثل “خرقا واضحا لمبدأ المساواة بين جميع المواطنين والمواطنات أمام القانون في الوقت الذي يجب فيه اتخاذ تشريعات لتعزيز هذه الأخيرة ولحماية الحريات”.

وفي نفس اليوم الذي نشرت فيه العريضة، أعلن كرشيد على صفحته الرسمية على الفايسبوك أنه سيسحب مشروع القانون مؤقتا، بينما سحب العديد من الموقعين أسماءهم أيضا.

وحسب أنور الزياني، منسق الائتلاف المدني من أجل الحريات الفردية، فإن بعض النواب الذين وقعوا على مشروع القانون ادعوا في وقت لاحق أنهم لم يكونوا على علم بمضمونه. ويمثل هذا الائتلاف الذي أسس سنة 2016 تحالفا غير رسمي بين 40 منظمة من منظمات المجتمع المدني.

في حديث مع مشكال عبر الهاتف، قال الزياني أن تزامن تقديم مشروع القانون مع حالتي الطوارئ الصحية والحجر الصحي يعتبر محاولة لتجاوز مراقبة المجتمع المدني، ولكنها محاولة فاشلة لأن “الرأي العام كان يقظا، ولأن وسائل الإعلام قامت بتغطية الخبر، فتوفرت بذلك التعبئة الضرورية”.
أما كرشيد فقد كتب على صفحته على الفايسبوك أن مشروع القانون “لا يستهدف أي مدون شريف ولا يطال إلا شبكات الكذب والإشاعة المغرضة التي تلوث حياتنا جميعا.”

وكان كرشيد قد أثار غضب المجتمع المدني سنة 2016 في دوره ككاتب دولة لدى وزير المالية المكلف بأملاك الدولة والشؤون العقارية؛ إذ قام حينها بتجميد حسابات الجمعية التي كانت تدير مشروع واحة جمنة. وحسب رئيس الجمعية فإن كرشيد تربطه علاقة عائلية مع طرف من أطراف النزاع حول أرض الواحة، وهو ما يفسر اتخاذه مثل ذلك القرار.

وقد علّقت عفاف عبروقي رئيسة تحرير مشروع “غلوبال فويسز” التابع ل”أدفوكس”، في مقال حول مشروع القانون نشر على موقع شبكة مكافحة الرقابة الإلكترونية”أدفوكس”، “أن المحاولة الأخيرة لتقييد حقوق التونسيين في التعبير والمعلومة لم تدم طويلا ولكن هذه الحقوق لا تزال مهددة”. وأضافت عبروقي: “من المحتمل أن يحاول المشرعون تقديم مشروع القانون مرة أخرى أو تقديمه بصيغة أخرى”.

وردا على سؤال مشكال حول سبب اقتراح القانون في هذا الوقت بالذات، أجابت عبروقي “من المرجح أنهم أرادوا استغلال انشغال الجميع بفيروس كوفيد _19؛ هذا ما يفسر حرصهم على مناقشة المشروع على وجه السرعة”.

وأشارت عبروقي أيضا إلى أن “نداء تونس”، الحزب الذي كان العديد من أعضاء “تحيا تونس” ينتمون إليه إلى حد انتخابات خريف 2019، كان قد اقترح هو أيضا سنة 2018 قانونا مماثلا يجرم التشهير على الانترنت.

وفي رد كتابي على أسئلة مشكال، أضافت عبروقي: “يبدو لي أن بعض السياسيين والنواب سيواصلون عملية جسّ النبض هذه لتحديد مدى شعبية مثل هذه القوانين”.

القيود القضائية على حرية التعبير

توسعت دائرة الحريات في تونس منذ ثورة 2011، حيث أعلن عن حلّ “البوليس السياسي” وعن وضع قوانين جديدة لحماية حرية التعبير؛ وكانت هذه مسؤولية السلطات الانتقالية في مرحلة أولى قبل أن يتمّ تكريسها لاحقا في دستور 2014. ولكن منذ ذلك الحين، لم يتم تنقيح القوانين القمعية القديمة ولا ملاءمتها مع الدستور؛ فمثلا تنص المادة 128 من المجلة الجزائية، على السجن لمدة عامين لكل من ينسب لموظف عمومي جرائم متعلقة بوظيفته دون توفير أدلة.

وتعتبر المحاكمة العسكرية الأخيرة للمحاميين عبد الرؤوف عيادي ونجاة العبيدي وفق المادة 128 مثالا آخر عن استخدام مؤسسات الدولة – في هذه الحالة القضاء وليس السلطة التشريعية- لتكميم الأفواه. ولطالما ذكّرت منظمات حقوق الإنسان بأن الدستور التونسي يحجر محاكمة المدنيين في المحاكم العسكرية. إذ تنص المادة 110 على أن المحاكم العسكرية “محاكم متخصّصة في الجرائم العسكرية”.

في يوم 5 مارس، مثل العيادي والعبيدي أمام المحكمة العسكرية في جلسة مغلقة، بما أن المحاكمات العسكرية ممنوعة على العموم. وكما هو الأمر بالنسبة لقضية مشروع قانون التشهير، فإن هذه القضية أيضا تتعلق بعضو من أعضاء “تحيا تونس”، ألا وهو عبد الرحيم الزواري، أحد مؤسسي الحزب ووزير سابق تقلد أربع وزارات على الأقل على مدى عدة سنوات خلال حكم ابن علي، وهو كذلك الأمين العام السابق للحزب الحاكم الكلياني المنحل، “التجمع الدستوري الديمقراطي”.

وحسب منظمة العفو الدولية، فإن العبيدي هي محامية اشتهرت بمرافعاتها في العديد من قضايا التعذيب، بما في ذلك قضية “براكة الساحل”- وهي مؤامرة انقلابية ضد نظام بن علي دارت أحداثها سنة 1991، ويقال أنها في الأصل عملية وهمية استعملها النظام كذريعة لمحاسبة العسكريين الذين اعتبرهم من المعارضين له. وبعد ثورة 2011، رفع عدد من العسكريين الـ244 الذين تعرضوا للتعذيب في قضية “براكة الساحل” دعوى ضد معذبيهم، ووكلوا العبيدي محامية عنهم. ومن بين المتهمين بالتعذيب أو إساءة استخدام السلطة في هذه القضية، الرئيس المخلوع والمتوفى ابن علي ووزير داخليته السابق، بالإضافة إلى مجموعة من المسؤولين الأمنيين. وقد كان عبد الرحيم الزواري وزيراً للعدل في سنة 1991 لمّا تم اعتقال هؤلاء العسكريين، ويبدو أن العبيدي أرادت أن يَمثُل الزواري هو أيضا أمام العدالة.

وكانت العبيدي قد أدلت بتصريحات صحفية سنة 2015 حول هذه القضية التي لا تزال سارية إلى اليوم. ويبدو أن هذه التصريحات هي سبب مثولها أمام المحكمة بتهمة التشهير بموظفة عمومية، والتي هي القاضية المعينة على هذه القضية.

وضحت العبيدي لمشكال في مقابلة هاتفية يوم 21 مارس سبب محاكمتها وفق المادة 128 من المجلة الجزائية قائلة: “ذكرت خلال محاكمة [2015] رفض هذه القاضية إصدار حكم بشأن عبد الرحيم الزواري في قضية سابقة على الرغم من وجود قرائن الإدانة، وقلت أنه يبدو أننا نسير في نفس الاتجاه. وكردة فعل حول شكوكنا التي عبرنا عنها داخل المحكمة، توجهت القاضية على الفور إلى النيابة العسكرية لرفع دعوى قضائية ضدنا”.

وأضافت العبيدي: “لم يرغب القاضي في الاستماع إلينا واستمر في مقاطعتنا مما أدى إلى ارتفاع حدة التوتر ودفعنا إلى التحدث إلى وسائل الإعلام”.

وأشارت العبيدي إلى أنه بالإضافة إلى القضية التي مثلت بسببها أمام المحكمة العسكرية سنة 2016، فإن نفس القاضية رفعت ضدها دعوى قضائية مدنية، بناءً على المادة 128 من المجلة الجزائية، بعد إدلائها بتصريحات إعلامية حول الإفلات من العقاب والفساد في المنظومة القضائية. وقد تم الحُكم عليها غيابياً بالسجن ستة أشهر وبدفع غرامة مالية.

وقد اعتبرت منظمة العفو الدولية في 12 مارس 2020، قضية العبيدي قضية عاجلة، ودعت إلى مراسلة الرئيس قيس سعيد ومطالبته ب”إلغاء أي حكم تصدره أي محكمة عسكرية ضد نجاة العبيدي فوراً ودون قيد أو شرط”. ووصفت رسالة منظمة العفو الدولية قضية العبيدي بأنها “أحد النماذج التي تشير إلى نمط أشمل من زيادة القيود على حرية التعبير في تونس”.

وقد أدان القضاء العبيدي في 12 مارس، ولكن حُكم عليها بغرامة “رمزية” فقط. وقالت العبيدي في هذا الشأن لمشكال:” أولا، بصفتي محامية، لم يكن يجب أن أحاكم بسبب ممارستي لوظيفتي، وثانيا وبصفتي شخصا مدنيا، لم يكن يجب أن أمثل أمام القضاء العسكري. وهذا ما دفعني للطعن .في الحكم”؛ ووصفت العبيدي بقية الملاحقات القضائية للمدونين على خلفية التعبير عن الرأي بالأمر المثير للقلق.

وقالت العبيدي لمشكال أيضا : “لقد تجاوزوا كل الخطوط الحمراء”؛ “حوكم العديد من المدونين في تونس في الماضي أمام المحكمة العسكرية … للمدونين والصحفيين الحق في طرح الأسئلة والتحقيق في بعض المسائل. أما بالنسبة إليهم، فهذه فرصة لمحاكمة الناس ليس فقط لأنهم مارسوا حرية التعبير، ولكن أيضًا لأنهم مارسوا حرية التفكير، فممارسة مثل هذه الحريات في نظرهم تستوجب القمع”.

القيود الإدارية على حرية التعبير

لم تكن القيود الأخيرة على حرية التعبير قيودا تشريعية أو قضائية فحسب، بل كانت هناك أيضا عواقب إدارية سلبية لممارسة حرية التعبير.

ففي 26 جويلية 2019، تم إيقاف وجيه ذكار، وهو طالب في السنة الرابعة بكلية الطب بجامعة تونس المنار، لمدة أربعة أشهر بعد اتهامه “بإهانة مسؤولي الجامعة عبر وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي”، حسب محضر جلسة مجلس التأديب الصادر في 6 سبتمبر 2019.

أوضح ذكار لمشكال أن تفاصيل قضيته تعود إلى 8 جوان 2019 ، على إثر كتابة منشور في مجموعة فيسبوك مغلقة خاصة بالطلاب انتقد فيه ظروف الدراسة في مكتبة الجامعة، التي كانت مكتظة ومكيفاتها معطلة على الرغم من تزامن الصيف ورمضان مع فترة المراجعة. واستنكر وجيه ذكار أيضًا في منشوره على فيسبوك تشغيل موظفي الجامعة لمكيفات الهواء في بقية الحرم الجامعي دون المكتبة. اشتكى ذكار من هذه النقائص في مجموعة فايسبوك خاصة بطلاب كلية الطب بتونس.

وأضاف ذكار لمشكال قائلا أنه : “بعد ذلك بيومين، تم استدعائي إلى مكتب العميد حيث أطلعني على لقطة شاشة للمنشور الذي كتبته. بعد أن تأكد من أنني أنا وراء المنشور، اتصل بالكاتب العام الذي افتك بطاقة الطالب الخاصة بي. وطلب العميد أيضا من الكاتب العام أن يرسل لي دعوة مكتوبة للوقوف أمام مجلس التأديب. بعد ذلك بأسبوع، تلقيت الدعوة التي اتهمتني “بتشويه سمعة موظفي المؤسسة، وانتهاك السرية، ونشر أكاذيب عن الإدارة “.

وحسب ذكار، فإن شرط “السرية” لا ينطبق عادةً إلا على طلاب الطب الذين يدرسون في الأكاديمية العسكرية أو الطلاب الذين عُهد إليهم بمعلومات سرية تتعلق بالمرضى.

وأضاف ذكار لمشكال أنه يعتقد أن كلامه خال من التشهير لأنه لم يذكر أي أسماء محددة. وقال أيضا أنه أدلى برأيه فقط فيما يتعلق بتدني ظروف الدراسة في جامعته، والتي رأى أنها نتيجة “سوء تصرف” أو “غباء”. وقد راجعت مشكال منشور ذكار الأصلي على فيسبوك، وتأكدت من أنه لم يذكر اسم أي شخص.

أصدرت المنظمة التونسية للأطباء الشبان، – وهي مجموعة مهنية جديدة نسبيًا تسعى إلى حماية مصالح الجيل الجديد من الأطباء- بيانًا تناولت فيه قضية ذكار، وتحدّثت عن المسألة في وسائل الإعلام؛ وحسب ذكار، فإنّ المنظمة لم تتلقى في البداية أي ردّ من العميد محمد الجويني وبقية ممثلي الإدارة، ولكن بمجرد أن لقيت القضية بعض الاهتمام الإعلامي، تم الاتصال بهم من قبل مسؤولي وزارة الصحة.

ورداً على إيقاف زميلهم عن الدراسة، نظم الطلاب مظاهرة في 13 سبتمبر. وفي 4 نوفمبر، نُظم إضراب في كليات الطب الأربع في تونس وأضرب الأطباء المتدربون والمقيمون في المستشفيات في نفس اليوم دعما لذكار. وقال ذكار أنه التقى بعد الإضراب بعدد من مسؤولي وزارة الصحة والنواب في محاولة لحل القضية. وأضاف : الجميع قال لي نفس الشيء: “علينا إيجاد “مخرج مشرف” لكلا الطرفين، مما يعني أنني يجب أن أعتذر حتى يسمح لي العميد بالعودة في اليوم التالي، ولكني رفضت مثل هذا الاقتراح.”

يعتقد ذكار أن شرط الاعتذار للإدارة في مقابل السماح له بالعودة إلى مقاعد الدراسة، هو شكل من أشكال العقاب وعمل انتقامي. علاوة على ذلك، يشعر ذكار بالقلق من أن التحقيق الأولي الذي أجرته الإدارة حول تعليقاته يكشف مسألة “التجسس” على الطلبة، حيث أنّ تعليقاته تم نشرها على مجموعة خاصة.

وقال ذكار لمشكال أيضا: “خلال الجلسة، قرأ نائب العميد بصوت عال وأمام الجميع منشورات [عامة] أخرى من صفحتي الخاصة على الفايسبوك، مستعملا هاتفه الخاص”. وأردف قائلا، “كانت نائبة رئيس جامعة تونس المنار حاضرة أيضًا، وقالت لي:”حتى لو كانت ادعاءاتك صحيحة، من المفروض أن لا تشاركها أبدًا لأنها تشوّه سمعة الجامعة وتحط من قيمة شهادتك العلميّة “.

ورداً على سؤالنا حول سبب حساسية الإدارة تجاه النقد، أجاب ذكار بأنّه يعتقد أن مسؤولي الإدارة أصبحوا في موقف دفاعي منذ أن وصلت الحركة الاحتجاجية الطلابية إلى ذروتها سنة 2018. وتمثلت الحركة الاحتجاجية المسماة بـ”الحركة 76″، والتي نسقتها الجمعية التونسية للأطباء الشبان، في إضراب لمدة 46 يومًا هدفه تحقيق مجموعة من المطالب منها أن يكون للطلاب رأي أكبر في الإصلاح الجامعي، وتغيير طريقة منح الشهادات الطبية، والمساواة في الأجور بين الأطباء التونسيين والأجانب. ورغم التوصل إلى اتفاق بشأن هذه المطالب، إلا أن بيانا للجمعية التونسية للأطباء الشبان قد صدر مؤخرًا، أشار إلى أن الحكومة لم تنفذ شروط الاتفاق.

وبالإضافة إلى ذلك فإنّه تمّ استدعاء طالب آخر في كلية الطب بجامعة صفاقس أمام مجلس التأديب في قضية مشابهة جدًا لقضية ذكار، وذلك في شهر أوت 2019، حيث انتقد هذا الطالب أيضًا ظروف الدراسة في المكتبة. ووفقا لشهادة ذكار، فإنّه تم تهديد الطالب بالطرد من كلية الطب إذا لم يقدم اعتذارًا علنيا، وهو ما فعله في نهاية المطاف في منشور على الفايسبوك ، تأكدت منه مشكال.

وقد أخبر ذكار مشكال أنه بعد إضراب الأطباء في نوفمبر، توصل إلى اتفاق شفوي مع الكاتب العام لكلية الطب لإلغاء إيقافه عن الدروس حتى لا يضطر إلى إعادة عام كامل. وأضاف أن الاتفاق الشفوي تضمن شرط إيقافه لـ”قصفه الإعلامي” للإدارة. قال ذكار أنه طلب اتفاقًا مكتوبًا ولكنه لم يتحصل عليه. وقال أيضا أنّه يثق بأساتذته، وأنه شارك مع المنظمة التونسية للأطباء الشبان في إيقاف إضراب ليومين كان مقررا في جانفي 2020.

ومع ذلك، فوجئ ذكار في شهر فيفري بقرار إداري بعدم قبول تربصه النهائي؛ وعندما استفسر عن ذلك، نفت الإدارة وجود اتفاق شفوي سابق بينها وبينه.

وقد راسل عضو مجلس النواب ياسين العياري (مستقل) يوم 18 فيفري رئيس البرلمان داعيا إياه لعقد جلسة استماع مع وزير التعليم العالي حول قضية ذكار. وفي تلك الأثناء، أصدرت المنظمة التونسية للأطباء الشبان بيانا تدين فيه الإدارة لعدم احترامها للاتفاق بينها وبين ذكار وعدم حمايته من الرسوب. ودعا البيان أيضا إلى حماية حقوق الطلبة ومساحاتهم الخاصة للتعبير عن الرأي.

وقال ذكار أنّه تعرّض للمضايقة من بعض كبار الأطباء وللتجاهل بسبب هذه القضية، بينما أصبح بعض زملائه من الطلاب يخشى التحدث إليه. وأضاف : “في مثل هذه الظروف، يصبح من الصعب عليك أن تمارس حرية التعبير. ولكن لا يمكنني السماح لهم بالانتصار، وإلا فإن الطلاب الآخرين سيعتبرون رسوبي سببا كافيا لتجنب الحديث عن أشياء أسوأ بكثير”.

واختتم قائلا: “هناك بعض الحقوق التي إذا لم تمارسها، فإنك ستنساها بسهولة … مثل التطعيم الذي علينا إعادته كل خمس سنوات؛ يجب أن نفعل شيئًا ما حتى نذكرهم بأن حرية التعبير ليست مجرد امتياز وأنهم مطالبون باحترامنا عندما نمارس مثل هذا الحق”.

Amid Pandemic, Efforts to Restrict Freedom of Speech Continue

Main photo: Photo of a protester outside of parliament in Bardo, Tunis, on November 13, 2019. Photo by George Gale.

Amid Pandemic, Efforts to Restrict Freedom of Speech Continue

Monday, April 20, 2020

Tunis – Ghaya Ben Mbarek and Fadil Aliriza

While the government mandated a nightly curfew on March 18 and a lockdown for non-essential outings on March 22 in a bid to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic, the lockdown hasn’t stopped some officials from continuing efforts to curb freedom of speech.

Member of parliament Mabrouk Korchid from the Tahya Tounes party submitted a draft law to parliament on March 29 that would introduce a penalty of up to two years in prison and a 20,000 dinar fine for anyone “committing electronic libel.” The draft law, which appeared to have 46 signatures from other members of parliament, calls on fighting so-called “fake news” and also stipulates that penalties should double if the act is committed during an election period or if the perpetrator hides their identity.

The following day, March 30, two dozen civil society groups signed a letter “condemning” the position of the bill’s sponsors, arguing the bill violates constitutional guarantees for freedom of speech.

The draft law “presents a threat to freedom of expression and freedom of press,”  according to the letter, shared on the Facebook page of ADLI, the Tunisian Association Defending Liberties, which is also one of the signatories. Other signatories included many prominent rights organizations as well as the UGTT and the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT by its French acronym).

The letter goes on to say the draft presents “a clear violation of the principle of equality among citizens before the law at a time when more legislation should be adopted to foster it and to protect liberties.”

The same day the letter was released, Korchid announced on his official Facebook page that he was withdrawing the bill temporarily while several signatories withdrew their names.

Some members of parliament who were signatories subsequently claimed they had been unaware of the content of the draft bill, according to Anoir Zayani, the coordinator of the Civil Collective for Personal Freedoms. The collective is an informal alliance of more than 40 civil society groups set up in 2016.

According to Zayani, the draft law was introduced during the continuing health emergency and coronavirus lockdown so as to bypass scrutiny from civil society, but this failed because “public opinion is vigilant, the media did reporting on this, so there was a mobilization,” he told Meshkal by phone.

According to Korchid, writing on Facebook after withdrawing the bill, the draft law “does not target any honorable blogger, but only affects networks of lying, rumors and prejudice that are polluting all our lives.”

Korchid previously drew the ire of civil society in 2016 when, as the Finance Ministry’s State Secretary for State Property and Land Affairs, he froze the accounts of the civil society association managing the Jemna oasis date plantation. The association’s leadership claims that Korchid had a family connection that was party to the dispute over the land, which was behind Korchid’s decision to freeze the Association’s accounts.

“This recent attempt to restrict Tunisians’ rights to freedom of expression and information online has been short-lived. However, these rights remain at risk,” Afef Abrougui wrote about the draft law in an article published on the anti-censorship network website Advox. “It is possible that legislators will attempt to submit it again or a different version in the future,” continued Abrougui, lead editor for Global Voices’ Advox project.

Asked by Meshkal to speculate on why the law was proposed at this moment, Abrougui considered that “it could be because they wanted to take advantage of the fact that everyone was distracted because of COVID-19, hence the fact that they sought for it to be reviewed urgently.”

However, Abrougui also noted that Nidaa Tounes, a party to which many Tahya Tounes members previously belonged to before splitting off in the last election cycle in fall of 2019, had proposed similar legislation in 2018 criminalizing online defamation.

“It seems to me that some politicians/MPs will continue to test the waters for these types of laws,” Abrougui wrote to Meshkal in response to questions.

Restrictions Through Judicial Power

The 2011 uprising created new spaces for free speech as the political police were reportedly disbanded and new laws protecting free speech were instituted, first by transitional authorities and later in the 2014 constitution. However, since then, formerly existing repressive laws have not been updated to match the constitution, like the penal code. Article 128 of the penal code, for example, stipulates that accusing public officials of crimes related to their jobs without providing proof can be punished with up to two years in prison.

The recent prosecution of lawyers Abderraouf Ayadi and Najet Laabidi for article 128 in a military trial is another recent case where the state’s institutions—in this case the judicial system rather than the legislature—are being used to police speech. Human rights groups have repeatedly pointed out that the Tunisian constitution prohibits trials of civilians in military courts; Article 110 states that “military courts are exclusively for military crimes.”

On March 5, Ayadi and Laabidi appeared before the military court in a hearing, in secret as military trials are closed to the public. Like the MP Korchid from Tahya Tounes, this case related to another member of Tahya Tounes: Abderrahim Zouari, one of the founders of Tahya Tounes, an ex-minister heading at least four ministries over several years during Ben Ali’s rule, and the former secretary general of the now disbanded single, ruling party the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD by its French acronym).

According to Amnesty International, Laabidi is a lawyer in several torture cases, including the case of “Barakat Al-Sahel” – an apparently bogus coup plot against Ben Ali in 1991 allegedly manufactured by the regime as an excuse to go after presumed political opponents in the military. After the 2011 uprising, some of the 244 soldiers who were tortured in the affair brought forward a case against their torturers, and Laabidi is representing these soldiers. Those accused of torture or abuse of power related to the case include the deposed and now deceased President Ben Ali, the former Minister of the Interior, and several security officials. Abderrahim Zouari was Minister of Justice in 1991 at the time the soldiers were rounded up, and Laabidi apparently wanted Zouari to be among those facing charges.

This trial has been ongoing, and in 2015, Laabidi made comments to the press and in court about it that appear to be the cause for the current prosecution of her for slandering a public official—in this case the judge in the trial.

“I mentioned during the [2015] trial a previous decision to dismiss that this judge issued concerning Abderrahim Zouari despite the existence of condemning evidence, and I said it seems that we are going down a similar path. As a reaction to our doubts expressed in court, she instantly went out to the military prosecution office and filed a lawsuit against us,” Laabidi told Meshkal in a phone interview on March 21, explaining why she has been charged with article 128 of the penal code.

“The judge did not want to hear us and kept interrupting us which led to increased tensions and made us talk about it in the media,” Laabidi added.

Laabidi also noted that besides the case she had before military court, in 2016, the same judge also filed a lawsuit against her, based on article 128 of the penal code, in civilian courts after some statements she made to the media concerning impunity and corruption in the judiciary. She was then sentenced to six months in prison in absentia and a fine.

On March 12, 2020, Amnesty International took up Laabidi’s case as an urgent action, calling on people to write letters to President Kais Saied asking him “to immediately and unconditionally quash any pronouncement rendered by a military court against Najet Laabidi.”

The Amnesty letter also called Labidi’s case an “example of a larger pattern of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression in Tunisia.”

On March 12, Laabidi was convicted but only sentenced to a “symbolic” fine.

“First, as a lawyer I should not have been tried for my job, and as a civilian I should have not been brought to the military court. These two beliefs made me appeal the verdict,” Laabidi told Meshkal.

Laabidi points to other prosecutions of bloggers for free speech as a worrying sign.

“They have crossed all red lines,” Laabidi told Meshkal. “Many bloggers have been tried before in the military court in Tunisia…bloggers and journalists have the right to ask questions and investigate certain phenomena. However for them, they consider such thing as an occasion to bring people to trial for not only practicing freedom of expression but also freedom of thinking. They take the practice of such rights as an opportunity to exercise their abuse.”

Restrictions Through Administrative Power

Not all recent limitations on freedom of speech have happened through legislation or judicial efforts. There have also been administrative consequences for free speech.

On July 26, 2019, Wajih Dhokkar, a fourth year medical student at the Faculté de Medicine de Tunis University Of Tunis El Manar was suspended for four months after being accused of “insulting the institution’s officials through social media,” according to the disciplinary council’s minutes released on September 6, 2019.

Dhokkar explained to Meshkal that the details of his case date back to June 8, 2019, when he wrote a post in a private, student Facebook group criticizing the studying conditions at the university’s library, which was overcrowded and did not have any cooling system working despite the fact that it was summer and Ramadan.

In his Facebook post, Wajih Dhokkar also called out the university staff for keeping the air-conditioning on in the remaining areas of the medical school campus.

Dhokkar wrote these complaints in a private Facebook group used by Tunis medical school students.

“Two days later, I was called to the dean’s office where he showed me a screenshot of the post I shared. After confirming with me that it was indeed my post, he called the general secretary who stripped me of my student ID and the secretary general was told by the dean to send me a written convocation to stand before a disciplinary board. One week later, I received the convocation which accused me of slandering the administration staff, violating confidentiality, and spreading falsehoods about the administration,” recalled Dhokkar.

According to Dhokkar, the “confidentiality” stipulation is normally only valid for medical students studying at the military academy or for students who have been entrusted with confidential information relating to patients.

Dhokkar told Meshkal he believes his words weren’t slanderous since he did not mention any specific names. He said he only shared his judgement regarding studying conditions in his university, which he speculated in his post were the result of either “misconduct” or “stupidity.” Meshkal reviewed Dhokkar’s original Facebook post and confirmed that it does not mention anyone by name.

The Tunisian Organization for Young Doctors (OTJM for its French acronym), a relatively new professional group set up to represent the interests of younger generation of doctors, issued public statement after Dhokkar’s case and raised the issue in media. Initially they received no response from the dean, Mohamed Jouini, and the rest of the administration, however, once the case did receive some media attention, they were contacted by health ministry officials, according to Dhokkar.

In response to the suspension of their colleague, a demonstration was held on September 13. On November 4, a strike was held in all four medical schools in Tunisia and in hospitals by interns and resident doctors in support of Dhokkar.

Dhokkar said that after the strike he met with several health ministry officials and MPs in an attempt to resolve the issue.

“All of them told me the same thing. They said that we should try to find an ‘honorable exit’ for both parties, which meant I should apologize and the dean would put me back in school the day after. I rejected such a proposal,” Dhokkar told Meshkal.

Dhokkar believes that this condition placed on the removal of his suspension is itself a form of punishment and an act of revenge. Moreover, he is concerned that the administration’s initial investigation into his comments reveals a problem of “spying,” since his comments had been posted to a private group.

“During the session, the vice dean who was holding his phone, went into my personal Facebook account and started reading out loud in front of everyone present other [public] statements that I have shared,” Dhokkar told Meshkal. “The vice president of the University of Tunis El Manar was also present and she said: ‘Even if the claims you made were true, you should have never shared that as it is discrediting the university and degrading to your degree.’”

Asked why the administration might be so sensitive to criticism, Dhokkar said he thinks administration officials have been on the defensive since a large protest movement came to a head in 2018. The protest, entitled “Mouvement 76,” and coordinated by OTJM saw a number of doctors go on strike for 46 days over a set of demands ranging from having more say in shaping academic reforms, a change in the medical degree certification process, and wage equality between Tunisian and foreign doctors. An agreement was reached over the demands, however a recent OTJM statement notes the agreement’s stipulations haven’t been implemented by the government.

In August 2019, another student in the medical school at Sfax University was brought before the disciplinary board in a very similar case to Dhokkar: over a Facebook post also criticizing the study conditions at the library.

According to Dhokkar, the student was threatened with expulsion from medical school if he did not make a public apology, which he eventually did in a Facebook post reviewed by Meshkal.

Dhokkar told Meshkal that after the doctor’s strike in November, he reached an oral agreement with the secretary general of the medical school to cancel his suspension so he would not have to repeat a whole year. Dhokkar said his oral agreement included a stipulation where he would stop his “media bombing” towards the administration. Dhokkar said he asked for a written agreement but was not given one. Dhokkar said that he trusted his professors and together with OTJM decided to halt a two-day strike that was planned in January 2020.

However, in February Dhokkar was surprised by an administration decision to not validate his final school internship. When he asked the administration about it, they denied the existence of their previous oral agreement.

Member of Parliament Yassine Ayari (independent) sent a correspondence on February 18 to the head of parliament calling for a hearing with the Minister of Higher Education concerning Dhokkar’s case. Meanwhile, the OTJM has released a statement condemning the administration for not honoring its agreement with Dhokkar to save him from repeating a year due to his suspension. The statement also called for “preserving student freedom and space for their personal expression.”

Dhokkar said that as a result of this incident some senior doctors have been harassing him, others have ignored him, and some of his fellow students are scared to speak with him.

“With such circumstances, it becomes really hard for you to find freedom of expression. However, I can’t let them win, otherwise other students would see me losing my year as an argument to not to speak up against much worse things,” he said.

“There are certain rights that if you do not practice them, they get easily forgotten…Similar to vaccination which we need to retake every five years, we should do something to remind them that freedom of expression is not a mere privilege and they are rather obliged to respect us when we practice such a right,” Dhokkar said.

Tunis Events Calendar Suspended

Main photo: A landscape of Bou Argoub, near Grombalia on March 7, 2020. Photo by Fadil Aliriza.

Tunis Events Calendar Suspended

Monday, March 16, 2020

Tunis – Meshkal news team

Meshkal is suspending its weekly events calendar as most public events have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely to slow the transmission of the coronavirus causing the new Covid-19 disease. We also expect that in the coming weeks the frequency of our reporting will decrease. We wish all of our readers good health and solidarity during this period, and we thank you for continuing to follow Meshkal’s reporting.

 

 

Using Land for Food: In Conversation with Habib Ayeb

Main photo: A photo of Habib Ayeb wearing a shirt of the Landless People’s Movement of South Africa, taken July 6, 2019 near Lac Ichkeul, by Fadil Aliriza.

Using Land for Food: In Conversation with Habib Ayeb

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Tunis – Habib Ayeb, interviewed by Matt Gordner

Habib Ayeb is a geographer, researcher, documentary filmmaker, and president of the Tunis-based Observatory of Food and Environmental Sovereignty [OSAE by its French acronym]. OSAE has been working to foster social science research around agrarian questions, particularly in Tunisia, that have traditionally been studied by engineers and technical experts. OSAE also works to connect small farmers and rural populations with urban populations through workshops, conferences, field trips and study sessions. Ayeb’s most recent book, coauthored with Ray Bush, is entitled Food Insecurity and Revolution in the Middle East and North Africa: Agrarian Questions in Egypt and Tunisia (Anthem Press, 2019).

Ayeb sat down for an interview at the OSAE office in Tunis on February 20, 2020 with Matt Gordner. Gordner is a Tunis-based PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto and a private consultant for international and Tunisian NGOs and think tanks on issues including youth politics, social movements, democratization and (de-)radicalization. His research is supported by the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation Scholarship, an American Political Science Association (APSA) Middle East and North Africa Civil Society Fellowship, and a series of Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) grants and awards, among others.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Matt Gordner: You coined the term ‘Alfa Grass Revolution’ in an article you wrote in 2011*, just after the Tunisian uprising. What does this term mean, and why is it important?

Habib Ayeb: It is very important for many reasons. Ben Ali left on the 14th of January, and the next day, the newspapers came out with the term ‘Jasmine Revolution.’ But look at the map where jasmine grows: in Sidi Bou Said, La Marsa, Sousse—the urban, rich, and coastal areas. This is an issue of ecology. In the south, there is no jasmine. Even in private gardens, it doesn’t work. You have small plants, but not jasmine. So why were the newspapers immediately talking about jasmine? It is to say that the revolution is not a social revolution; that it is not a social process. It is to say that something happened thanks to the [university] graduate, young, rich, and pro-democracy parts of the population. This is the picture they tried to paint. That the revolution is only for a lack of democracy and everything else is ok. That the only problem with Ben Ali was lack of democracy.

This implies that the revolution took one day or two days, and that it had nothing to do with [Mohamed] Bouazizi [the vegetable seller in Sidi Bouzid who set himself on fire in protest after authorities confiscated his goods in December 2010 and sparked uprisings] or the period before December 2010 and 2011. This was a big lie. It is as if to exclude people—the poor people. It is to say that the only ones who count are chic people, the democrats. For me, I wrote this as a response to what others tried to impose as an analysis, as an explanation: why the revolution, and why now? And I did it both as a scholar but also as someone who is part of this country. I don’t want the mainstream reading of the revolution to become the only explanation.

I went into the south two, three, and four years before 2010, and in my article, I wanted to explore whether there is any connection between what happened in 2008 [when there were mass protests] in the mining area in Gafsa [with the subsequent uprising in 2010/2011]. You know, months after the mining protests in Gafsa, small farmers refused to pay their bills to STEG [the Tunisian Company of Electricity and Gas], and thousands of small farmers and peasants refused to repay their loans to [banks]. [There was a] sit-in in Sidi Bouzid in July 2010—Mohamed Bouazizi was there. Farmers went in front of the majles al-wilaya [governorate office] and organized a sit-in for almost one month and were attacked by the police. They demanded the cancellation of their credits and their debt to STEG. They were suppressed by the police.

In my paper, I asked: who was Mohamed Bouazizi? He was introduced as young, a university graduate, urban, and unemployed. But we know that he wasn’t an unemployed graduate. His family are farmers—or used to be farmers. And they lost their land. His father, his uncle, his whole family.

This is the way that investors used to work, with the complicity of banks like BNA [National Agricultural Bank, a public bank], to grab land. Most investors are from Sfax and Tunis. Some people, especially small farmers, refused to sell their land. You have three or four ways to dispossess people: One you can kill the owners; two you buy the land, or three if you can’t do both, you push the owner into a very difficult situation. Give him money knowing that he will not be able to reimburse you.

MG: Can you explain that process in more detail?

HA: Sure. I’m an investor, and you’re a farmer. I want to buy your piece of land. So, I ask: What’s your price? But you’re not selling it. I can offer much more than the local rates. For example, if the rate is 1000 dinars per hectare, I can give you 10,000. But you don’t need money, so of course you will not sell. The investors are linked to the bank of course. And they are linked mainly to BNA. So, they push the bank to offer a credit to the farmer, knowing that they will never be able to pay back the loans.

This is what happened with Bouazizi’s uncle. They went to see him and gave him an offer. They said: “You are too small. The farmers around you are much bigger than you. You are practicing traditional agriculture, and the others are practicing mechanized agriculture. So, we will give you the money you need to change your system, to move from rain-fed irrigation to intensified agriculture. And don’t use local seeds. We’ll give you enough money to buy new and better seeds. And everywhere around you farmers are using pesticides, so you should use pesticides.”

The bank offers a sum that is too good to be rejected. It is very classic. Actually, this is the same system that was used in the 18th century. But if you take credit, there are conditions. One of the conditions is that if you are not able to pay back the loans, the land becomes property of the bank. And they know that the farmers will not be able to pay back the bank. And this is exactly what happened to small farmers in Sidi Bouzid.

MG: What is the relationship between investors and the bank?

HA: Corruption, of course. Corruption used to go through the BNA.

MG: You said, “used to.” Is this still the case?  



HA: Yes, it continues. Maybe not so brutally, but it still works, of course. And this is everywhere, not only in Tunisia. In Egypt and India and South America it’s exactly the same. In Northern countries it’s a different process, but there is also this kind of banking mechanism: artificially creating the worst conditions for small farmers. They make it impossible to survive with the old system of traditional, rain-fed agriculture.  So, the Bouazizi family were in this sit-in in June and July. It was five months before his suicide. This explains why and when Bouazizi killed himself. Local families went into the street because of the dispossession of the population from their land, and it took these people to a kind of social class solidarity.

In Tunis, there has been on average 250 suicides per year for the last decades, and none of them ended in revolution. No one knew Bouazizi. He came from nowhere. He is not known. He is a normal person. But he did this because he was in the street with his family and many other small farmers just six months before. And then we know what happened. So, when you consider the four years between 2008 and 2010, you see in fact a very important thing. When you look back and see what happened, you see huge revolutionary processes and socially-based contestation. A huge process where from the south-west to north-west to south-east, people were involved in huge strikes that are all part of this chain. At some point in the process it had to come out, and it came out through Bouazizi.

When the protests reached Tunis, they started in [the neighborhoods of] Kram, Hey-Ettadhamen, Sidi Hassine; not in Sidi Bou Said or even on Bourguiba Avenue.

MG: Can you talk about the bifurcation of agriculture, as you do in your book, and its importance historically?

HA: I talked about this in my latest publication, too, in Arabic and French: De La Construction De La Dépendence Alimentaire en Tunisie [published December 2019 by Thimar and OSAE]. What happened exactly? Over the last 100 years, there has been an issue of modernization. Through this issue, we moved in steps. The first one is colonization: the land taken by the French. The second, we started moving from small scale farming to “expert” and large-scale farming [what was then] cooperative agriculture. The issue for the decision-makers during the last period of colonialism and at independence was how to modernize agriculture. And the discussion started from one very “terrific” conclusion: the small farmers are too many, too small, too poor, and too ignorant. So, the modernization of the agriculture sector should be realized by experts along with state and private capital.  This is why we have so many agricultural schools in Tunisia.

MG: If there are so many schools, why did the cooperative land movement, [associated with the leadership of minister Ahmed Ben Salah from 1962-1969] fail?

HA: The cooperative was not a cooperative of farmers. It was a cooperative of land that disconnected the farmers [from their land]. The state took the land and gave it to the “experts” to run it as directors of cooperatives, managers, and technicians, and the farmers lost their land when they entered into cooperatives as workers, not as co-owners. The link between land and farmers was cut. In order to enter into the cooperative, you had to give over your land first and sign that it’s not your land anymore. You give me your land, and I will give you a job. If tomorrow you are sick and you can’t work, you will have no money. So, thousands of small farmers were dispossessed like that.

The technicians and experts weren’t able to operate the land because farming isn’t all a technical thing. While small farmers worked to eat, the technicians farmed to get money. And I think that this was the first crack in the whole sector. The idea of cooperatives is very interesting, but when it goes with dispossession it becomes catastrophic. In the Egyptian case [of agrarian reform], farmers joined the cooperatives as owners. And the Egyptian cooperatives worked for three decades from the mid-1950s to the early 80s.

And the third [step in modernization of agriculture] is privatization of land and neo-liberalization of the sector. The idea was to give the money and land to investors. Why? Because one, small farmers are ‘too small and too stupid and too poor,’ and two, the cooperatives failed and now there is no way to go back to this experience. Who is able to produce now? Investors.

Why? Because modernizing agriculture for the decision-makers means increasing exports. This is the only way they see the agricultural sector and the modernization of the national economy working. According to the concept of ‘comparative advantage,’ the agriculture sector is supposed to export the maximum to get money. Export to feed people instead of growing food to feed people: export, get money, and buy food to import. This is the case for the whole agricultural sector in Sidi Bouzid. It was an arid steppe until the 1980s, but now Sidi Bouzid is the first region of the country in this sector, and accounts for between 15% and 20% of agricultural production in Tunisia. But Sidi Bouzid remains the poorest region in Tunisia. Agricultural development didn’t produce social development. It produced more exclusion, more marginalization, more excluded people. Mohamed Bouazizi was one of them.

MG: Can you talk to me about another facet of this dynamic of traditional-to-modernized land: collective, tribal land?

HA: It’s the same process. The French colonial government created the institution of the cadastre [land registry] in 1886. This was the starting point.  They forced the owners by law to register the land in the cadastre, and once that was done, the settlers gained access to the land. When a French settler wanted to take over land in Beja, for example, they only had to go to the office and say: “I wand that piece of land.”

Tribal lands are supposed to be indivisible. Tribal lands couldn’t be taken as one piece. And it is very difficult because if you cannot have a formal ownership document, you are not an owner. I cannot say that I’m an owner of this office here if I don’t have papers. I need an official paper. And tribal lands of course were not in the cadastre. What had been done in the last period from the early colonial times to now is a process of individualization of the land: taking the land from the tribes and moving it to individual people.

It is a kind of privatization. Imposing the cadastre facilitates access to land for investors. I can go to any owner and discuss with him the process of buying land. Sidi Bouzid was the same. Most of the land in Sidi Bouzid was not divisible before the 1980s. When the government decided to reorganize the land as an area for development, the first step was imposing a cadastre. They said: “If you don’t register it, the state will do it, and after you will have to pay for it.”

I am from Medenine, and one day me and my bothers got a letter in the mail that said if you don’t register the land, the state will do it for you. So, when the administration decided to “free” the land for investors or for the state itself they just started by registering it in the cadastre. Land grabbing starts from there.

MG: How did the uprising in 2010-2011 change this dynamic?

HA: It has accelerated it. There are two processes. One, I think—I’m not sure about it—is migration within Tunisia and abroad. It has increased, I mean. Migration now is higher than in 2011. This has to be documented, but it hasn’t been done. I’m just seeing this through my field visits. And the second movement on the other side: after the revolution, the tourism industry and the third sector [i.e. the service sector] in general suffered from a certain instability when foreign investors went out—especially those who were investing in tourism and industry.

Many Tunisian and foreign investors left the country with their money. So, the only secure sector to invest in is agriculture. Social movements are not as concentrated in the countryside as they are in the cities. When there is a strike in the cities, everyone sees it—the media of course, and the banks, and the state. When there is any movement in the countryside, it is less visible.

MG: So, what is the solution? 



HA: There is no one solution. The revolution starts with changing agricultural policy. The land should be used to feed people. Nothing else.

And land should be secured from any kind of private investment. This is not a place to do business. If you want to do business, go somewhere else. Land is too important to give it to the “experts” and the investors. If we start from there, from that philosophy—“land should be used to feed people”—then we can go into technical details.

Because we are in a liberal market, the state should impose certain conditions to the import/export market. One example is to prevent the export of products coming from irrigated lands. For this, you don’t need a Marxist revolution. It’s a technical thing. If you want to export and you have irrigation, I can’t say no. But you apply a 50 percent tax. And everything you import also has to be submitted to certain taxes to make the accumulation of capital completely difficult or non-feasible.

Instead of limiting export-oriented agriculture and investment in the agriculture sector, the government has encouraged capitalistic agriculture: very intensive and extractive projects. Now you can have a big agricultural project in Tunis without investing almost anything: 30 percent of your investment comes from the state as state support. The other 30 percent is a backed loan from the bank. And the rest? You don’t need to pay it, you just put it in the bank. You can pay on credit. It’s not your money. You can move it from one place to another. You have a gift—the state guarantee—and your money to guarantee the investment. You don’t pay the last part. It’s just money in the bank to ensure the investment. This is called a “Zero Investment Project.”

This should not be allowed because small farmers, they don’t have any state support. And one of the conditions to get the support from the state and the bank is to produce for export—either partially or totally. And this goes against the idea of feeding people. If we stop this kind of capitalistic investment and radically change our agricultural policies, we will then move from 50 percent food importation to 0 percent,** protect natural resources and biodiversity, and reduce our carbon production. I’m sure about it.

Editor’s notes:

*Alfa grass, or esparto grass, is a perennial grass grown throughout North Africa that is particularly common in steppe land.

**A 2017 study by the state think tank, the Tunisian Institute of Strategic Studies [ITES by its French acronym], found that 60 percent cereals are imported.

Tunis Events Calendar: Week of March 9-15, 2020

Main photo: An illustration of activist Lina Ben Mhenni commemorating the 40th day after her death resulting from chronic health issues.

Tunis Events Calendar: Week of March 9-15, 2020

Monday, March 9, 2020

Tunis – Meshkal news team

Every Monday, Meshkal compiles a calendar of political, cultural, and economic events taking place in Tunis for the week. No events included appear to require an entry fee EXCEPT for the book presentation of the former finance minister on Wednesday at ATUGE. Some events are announced during the week and so may not be included at the time the events calendar is published.

Monday, March 9:

9:30 – Parliament’s Committee on Elections is scheduled to open candidate applications for the renewal of half of the members of the National Anti-Torture Authority, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

13:30 – Parliament’s Committee on Administrative Reform, Good Governance, Anti-Corruption and Oversight of Public Finance Management is holding a hearing with the director of customs, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

14:00 – Parliament’s Committee on the Affairs of Disabled Persons and Marginalized Groups is scheduled to hold a meeting on its work schedule, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

14:30 – Parliament’s Committee on Tunisia Diaspora Affairs is holding a meeting on bilateral and multilateral agreements, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

??:?? – Hearing in the military trial of lawyer Abderraouf Ayadi. Human rights activists tell Meshkal he is being tried for insulting a public official. A campaign has been launched to support him and call for an end to military trials for civilians.

Tuesday, March 10:

9:00 – Workshop on the protection of Sebkhet Sijoumi and its biodiversity. Location: Hotel Mechtel, Tunis.

9:00 – Parliament is schedule to hold a plenary (full) session to assess draft law No11/2020 relating to a loan signed by the Ministry of Finance and local banks and draft law No77/2019 on approving an African intellectual property statute signed in Addis Ababa on January 31, 2016, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

9:00 – Parliament’s Committee on Elections is scheduled to open candidate applications for the renewal of half of the members of the National Anti-Torture Authority, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

Wednesday, March 11:

9:00 – Day one of a three-day international colloquium on the topic of “Forms of Resistance and Social Critique in the Arab World Post-2011.” Location: Faculté des sciences humaines et sociales de Tunis, Boulevard 9 Avril, 1938.

9:00 – Parliament’s Committee for the Organization of the Administration and Armed Forces Affairs is scheduled to hold a meeting on draft law No73/2019 regarding the transfer of goods over land borders, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

9:00 – Parliament’s Committee on the Rules of Procedure, Immunity, Electoral Laws and Parliamentary Laws is scheduled to hold a meeting on amendments to the rules of procedure, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

9:30 – Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture, Food Security, Trade and Related Services is scheduled to hold a hearing with the chambers of commerce UTICA and CONECT on draft law No79/2019 on the social solidarity economy, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

9:30 – Parliament’s General Legislation Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing with the UGTT, the National Order of Lawyers, the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), the Association of Tunisian Judges, and the Syndicate of Tunisian Judges on draft law No25/2015 on Prosecution of Abuses Against Armed Forces, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala. The draft law has been condemned by several human rights groups and activists.

18:30 – Former Finance Minister and Prime Ministerial hopeful Hakim Ben Hammouda is presenting his new book entitled “Social Democracy or Conservative Revolution? Tunisia After the 2019 Elections.” Event is being hosted by ATUGE, the alumni association of the grandes écoles. There is an entry fee of 10 dinars and registration is requested in advance. Location: ATUGE.

Thursday, March 12:

9:00 – Day two of a three-day international colloquium on the topic of “Forms of Resistance and Social Critique in the Arab World Post-2011.” Location: Faculté des sciences humaines et sociales de Tunis, Boulevard 9 Avril, 1938.

9:00 – Parliament’s Committee on the Rules of Procedure, Immunity, Electoral Laws and Parliamentary Laws is scheduled to hold a meeting on amendments to the rules of procedure, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

9:00 – Parliament’s Committee on Finance, Planning and Development is scheduled to hold a hearing with the Minister of Finance and the governor of the Central Bank on draft law No39/2017 on excessive interests rates, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

9:30 – Parliament’s General Legislation Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing with representatives from civil society on draft law No25/2015 on Prosecution of Abuses Against Armed Forces, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala. The draft law has been condemned by several human rights groups and activists.

10:00 – Parliament’s Committee on Youth and Cultural Affairs, Education and Scientific Research is scheduled to assess documents transferred to the committee, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

Friday, March 13:

9:00 – Day three of a three-day international colloquium on the topic of “Forms of Resistance and Social Critique in the Arab World Post-2011.” Location: Faculté des sciences humaines et sociales de Tunis, Boulevard 9 Avril, 1938.

9:00 – The Higher Judicial Council is hosting a forum, with the support of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation Tunisia chapter, on the its role and the challenges to an independent judiciary. Registration was required in advance by March 6. Location: Hotel Laico.

9:00 – Forum debate on moving towards a new model of local and regional development in Tunisia hosted by the Jasmine Foundation for Research and Communication and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) at the Hotel Golden Tulip El Mechtel, Tunis.

10:00 – Parliament’s General Legislation Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing with the Justice, Defense, and Interior ministers on draft law No25/2015 on Prosecution of Abuses Against Armed Forces, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala. The draft law has been condemned by several human rights groups and activists.

17:00 – A ceremony is being held in honor of deceased activist Lina Ben Mhenni. The event is being organized by her family and friends in commemoration of the 40th day since her passing. Location: Culture City

Saturday, March 14:

14:00 – A climate strike is being organized by Youth For Climate Tunisia. Location: Bab Bhar.

15:00 – Tarek Bakri will give a presentation on his visual documentation project entitled “We Were and We Still Are Here,” connecting Palestinian diaspora to their land. The event is taking place as part of the “Week of Resistance to Zionist Colonialism and Apartheid,” running from March 9-14. Location: Ibn Rachiq Culture House.

15:00 – A discussion on the “Tunisian left, Between Theoretical and Experience,” hosted by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (associated with the right-wing Christian Democratic party in Germany) is being held. Two other local associations are also hosting the discussion, including one called The Tunisian Girl Association and another called Readers without Borders. Location: Espace Carmen, near Ministry of Higher Education.

18:00 – Opening of the Tunisia Environmental Film Festival, which runs from March 14-20. The first film screening will be of “The Great Green Wall” by Jared P. Scott. Location: Culture City.

Sunday, March 15:

14:00 – Day two of the Tunisia Environmental Film Festival, which runs from March 14-20. Screening will be “Our Planet” by BBC. Location: Culture City

Tunisian Black Women Speak Out Via New Collective

Main photo: Maha Abdelhamid, one of the founders of Voices of Tunisian Black Women, speaks to media in 2015. Photo taken from a photo shared publicly by Abdelhamid on Facebook, used with her permission.

Tunisian Black Women Speak Out Via New Collective

Monday, March 9, 2020

Tunis – Morgan Beard

On January 23, 2020 – the 174th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Tunisia – seven women founded the group Voices of Tunisian Black Women (formerly known as Amber), the first initiative in the country dedicated specifically to issues affecting black women. Its primary goal, according to one of its founders, is to give voice to the experiences of black women through personal testimonies and scientific research about black women and their social conditions.

“The problem is so deep and that’s why we wanted to talk about it loudly, because we don’t talk about the problem,” said Khawla Ksiksi, one of the group’s founders. “When we start talking about the problem, the first reaction is people start saying we are paranoid or hysterical or sick.”

Ksiksi explained that while both black men and women face discrimination in Tunisian society, black women in particular are subjected to a mixture of racism and sexual aggression that is unique. Black people make up about 15 percent of Tunisia’s population, according to another member of the collective.

“Our goal, of course, is to give Tunisian black women validation, to get rid of marginalization and the invisibility [of their problems], and to fight against the violence of society, but also to create a dynamic in the Tunisian feminist sphere that has no sensitivity to intersectionality,” Maha Abdelhamid, one of the group’s founders who is a historian specializing in social geography and black women’s issues, told Meshkal in an email. “We black women must come together and feel the peace. We need to know one another closely.”

Ksiksi said she was inspired to create the group after she received many negative reactions to a post she made on the #EnaZeda (#MeToo in Tunisian dialect) Facebook group, which is described by its moderators as a safe space to address personal encounters with sexual harassment, abuse, and violence.

The women’s rights organization Aswat Nissa [which means “Voices of Women” in Arabic] created the #EnaZeda Facebook page on October 15, 2019 for people to share their personal testimonies. The group has quickly grown in membership, with dozens of testimonies posted each day from among its 34,000 members.

“I wrote this thing, and everyone was against me,” she said. “They were telling me that I like playing the role of victim, [racism] doesn’t exist in Tunisia, [what I wrote] is not true, and I just want to show off with all of the things that I wrote.”

Black women are often the targets of particular forms of sexual harassment. Although there are no statistics demonstrating so, many black women in Tunisia are domestic workers. According to a 2006 report by the International Labor Organization, a UN agency whose goal is to promote decent work and social justice, migrant and domestic workers are two groups with a particularly high risk for workplace violence and harassment. These issues are compounded by prejudicial stereotypes such as an association between black women and sex workers and a bizarre myth in Tunisia that sleeping with a black woman can cure disease, according to the women Meshkal spoke with.

“We have this sexual aggression because we are linked to an image of sex workers and easy women and they think that they can just ask for us and we will follow them,” said Ksiksi.

Though Ksiksi received support from some commenters in her post on Ena Zeda and the negative reactions were eventually removed by the page’s moderators, Ksiksi said the incident demonstrated the need for a more specific forum where black women could share their accounts of racism without facing judgment or criticism.

While Voices of Tunisian Black Women is not registered as an association and currently has no outside funding, it plans to work on a volunteer basis and will soon launch a website where members will publish articles and audiovisual stories about issues specific to black women translated in French, Literary Arabic, and Tunisian dialect to create the largest possible reach. The group’s founders are also planning to make available their personal archives on black women’s issues to readers of the site, according to Abdelhamid.

“The website will be a space for writing and self-expression for all Tunisian black women who wish to write and express themselves socially and politically,” Abdelhamid said in an email. “We want the site to be an echo of the voices of Tunisian black women.”

Voices of Tunisian Black Women is also partnering with lawyers and notaries who have volunteered to provide pro bono legal support to victims of racist attacks and harassment by filing suits against aggressors under an anti-discrimination law passed in October 2018 (organic law no50/2018).

The law was the first in Tunisia to address racism and discrimination explicitly and set specific penalties for racist acts. It was passed almost unanimously with 125 members of Parliament voting in favor, one against and five abstaining.

Under the law, a person convicted of making racist remarks can be fined up to 1,000 dinars and imprisoned for up to a year. These penalties are doubled if the victim is in a vulnerable position as a result of old age, pregnancy, disability or if they are a child or immigrant as well as if the perpetrator has a position of power over the victim or acts as a part of a group. For racially-motivated threats, participation in racist groups, or for the incitement of hate or violence based on race, the penalties can rise as high as 5,000 dinars for regular citizens – 15,000 dinars for legal entities – and up to three years in prison.

The law does not explicitly punish racially motivated violence or physical aggression itself, meaning that those offenses would carry no greater punishment than any other assault. Article 2 of the law also makes an important exception allowing preferences to be given to Tunisian citizens over foreigners, provided that they do not target specific nationalities.

The passage of the law followed advocacy and lobbying for it by civil society organizations including most prominently Mnemty, an association that says it aims to fight all forms of racial discrimination in Tunisia.

Ksiksi, who was a part of Mnemty during the lobbying efforts, said that the version that the group proposed was stronger than the one that passed.

Several high profile, apparently racially-motivated attacks in the country in recent years seem to have helped inspire politicians to pass the law, including a case in which three Congolese students were non-fatally stabbed in Tunis in December 2016 as well as an incident earlier that year in which a black woman suffered verbal harassment on Avenue Habib Bourguiba and was told by police that they could not help her because there was no specific law against the behavior. In a similar incident, when Jamel Ksiksi, then a customs agent, was assaulted by a server at a hotel in Mahdia in summer 2016, police said they could not charge the aggressor with a form of racial discrimination because of a lack of legal standing.

Former Prime Minister Youssef Chahed spoke just two days after the attack on the Congolese students at the National Conference Against Racial Discrimination where he called for the drafting of a law criminalizing racial discrimination, becoming the first senior Tunisian official to support such a measure.

“He said there is a lot of racism, he admitted that there is racism in Tunisia,” said Ghofrane Binous, the former vice-president of the Mnemty group, who said it was the first time that she had heard a politician speak so clearly and honestly about racism in the country. “He said that racism exists in Tunisia and in fact that the state is racist.”

While the law was a step in the right direction according to many activists and politicians, it has also faced criticism for being difficult to enforce, especially for those without the money to hire a lawyer.

“I’m glad that there is a law now, but for me, the law is not enough,” said Binous, who is also a former stewardess for TunisAir who was subjected to racist harassment from a passenger in 2018. “A law is not enough to do away with the racist remarks or the racist mentality that has taken root in their heads.”

Binous was verbally attacked by a passenger aboard a flight from Tunis to Istanbul in May of 2018, about six months before the passage of the anti-racism law. The crew and captain of the flight supported her in that instance and had the passenger removed. But, she said, the attention she got as an activist as a result of the incident led the administration of the airline to make her job more difficult for her until she decided to quit. She now works as a member of the political office of the Tahya Tounes party, led by Chahed.

There is little evidence to show that racially motivated crimes have decreased in frequency or intensity since the passage of organic law no50/2018.

In December of 2018, more than two months after the passage of the law, an Ivorian man named Falikou Coulibaly was stabbed to death during a street robbery in La Soukra, sparking protests from the Sub-Saharan African community in Tunis.

One year later, in December 2019, a controversy arose in Tunisia’s Parliament when the leader of the Parti Destourien Libre (PDL party), Salah Neji, published a racist Facebook post attacking Jamila Ksiksi, the only black woman serving as a member of Parliament and a member of the Ennahdha party. The post included a photo of Ksiksi next to that of a gorilla and described her using the words “monkey,” “ugly” and “slave.” Ennahda announced days later that it would seek to press charges against Neji for the incident.

Abdelhamid pointed to the incident as one of the events that, for its founders, confirmed their need to set up Voices of Tunisian Black Women.

Khawla Ksiksi, who is the daughter of Jamila Ksiksi, said that she tried to use the law personally and found that the costs were too expensive for all but the very rich, explaining that notary and lawyers’ fees would add up to over 1,000 dinars just to file a suit. Beyond the financial obstacles to invoking law no50/2018, it is very difficult to prove that you have been discriminated against on the basis of race unless it was done in writing, Ksiksi said.

Even when there is concrete proof of racist behavior, Ksiksi explained, often it is difficult to pursue a person legally because of their status in society or because of the culture in the region where the incident occurred.

In a recent instance, Farhat Rajhi, a judge and member of parliament from the Courant Démocrate party repeatedly used the word “oussif,” meaning “slave,” to refer to black people generally while speaking in front of Parliament and was recorded on video doing so. According to Ksiksi, Rajhi refused to apologize for the incident when asked to do so.

“We recorded everything, and we will pursue him for this even if he has parliamentary immunity,” she said. “But it will be symbolic to tell people that we are here, and we are following everyone who will make some violence based on color.”

She also said that it would be very difficult to win a case under the anti-racism laws in the south of Tunisia because of the close-knit nature of the communities there.

“I think it’s so difficult to do it in Medenine because everybody knows each other, and you cannot put your neighbor in jail with this culture of the country and the normalization of racism there,” Ksiksi, herself originally from the south, explained. “The victim will be judged even more than the racist act on itself.”

That presents a major problem for the application of the law as a large percentage of black Tunisians live in such communities, according to Ksiksi, although no official statistics exist on the population of black Tunisians either regionally or nationally.

According to Abdelhamid, though, it is still important to use whatever legal means are available to prosecute crimes of racism, even if the laws are expensive to use and have not been applied effectively thus far.

“Of course it is important to pursue those guilty of racism,” she wrote. “I think it will require associations that fight for human rights and volunteer lawyers to mobilize to stand up to these racist crimes.”

In addition to regional differences in the perception of racial issues, economic class also seems to have an effect on the way people treat minorities, according to Binous.

“Actually, in working-class neighborhoods there is less racism than there is where rich people live,” she said. “Not the bourgeois, but the aristocrats, they don’t want black people around because black people aren’t like the other citizens [around them]. Despite that they’re cultured and well educated, studying in the United States or Paris or wherever. Despite all that, they are racist.”

Binous believes that truly stopping racism in Tunisia may take many years and will likely have to start with changes in the way black people are portrayed in the media and even in educational materials.

“In the textbooks, when it comes to education, why are the little girls and boys always white with blonde hair and blue eyes?” she said. “We are not in a Scandinavian country. We are in a part of Africa… In fact, white people with green eyes are minorities just like us but in books you just see white people; you don’t find black people.”

Ksiksi said that she is often stopped in the street by women who tell her: “It’s so bizarre, you are beautiful,” as if they are giving her a compliment because they are so surprised that a woman could be both beautiful and black. Similarly, she says, many of the people she meets with professionally ask her where her colleague is when they first meet her, assuming she is only a secretary or assistant.

“The act of laying out the problem of racism in Tunisia, for me is a solution,” said Binous. “The act of someone, a woman saying that, ‘I’ve been subjected to racism,’ or a man who has been subjected to racism. It’s very important to speak. Because someone who is 30 years old and has never spoken about racism but has lived it, they hide it and hide it and hide it and one day they will explode. So, we must encourage them so that they speak.”

Fadil Aliriza contributed to this report.

يتصاعد الجدل بشأن الخطوات التالية إبّان حظر استعمال بعض الأكياس البلاستيكية

الصورة الرئيسية: من المدرجات المخصصة للحضور الذي واكب حلقة النقاش حول النفايات البلاستيكية في الثالث من مارس 2020 في تونس العاصمة، تطرق شاب أصيل منطقة سيدي حسين لمصب النفايات الخطرة الموجود في محيط الحيّ، والذي لم يتم إغلاقه بعد على الرغم من مرور سنوات من القرار الرسمي. تصوير فاضل علي رزا

يتصاعد الجدل بشأن الخطوات التالية إبّان حظر استعمال بعض الأكياس البلاستيكية

الجمعة 5 مارس 2020.

فاضل على رزا – تونس

مع دخول الأمر الحكومي القاضي بمنع بعض أنواع الأكياس البلاستيكية حيز التنفيذ هذا الشهر، يتطلع الكثيرون للخطوات التالية الكفيلة بمواصلة الحدّ من النفايات البلاستيكية.

“إنّا نمنعُ ساشيات البلاستيك هذه حاجة باهية، لكن في نفس الوقت نجموا نمشيو أكثر . عندنا “لي پاي” الي نستعملوهم في كل بلاصة، في “لي رستوران” ، و زادا كيف كيف الفرشيطة والسكينة و “ليز أسيات” البلاستيك.” جاء هذا التدخل خلال حلقة النقاش المنعقدة يوم الثلاثاء 3 مارس على لسان أميمة رجب، الكاتبة العامة لشبكة تسمى”زيرو وايست”  أو”صفر نفايات”، وهي شبكة تقدم ورشات عمل حول فرز وإعادة تدوير النفايات.

قبل يومين فقط من ذلك، دخل المنع الجزئي للأكياس البلاستيكية ذات الاستعمال الوحيد حيز التنفيذ بمقتضى الأمر الحكومي عدد 32 لسنة 2020. ويُعرف هذا الأمر الأكياس ذات الاستعمال الوحيد كأكياس ذات سمك لا يتجاوز 40 ميكرون، مما قد يُرجح مواصلة إنتاج الأكياس الأكثر سمكا أو تلك المصنوعة من مواد أخرى. كما يستثني هذا القانون الأكياس الخاصة بالمنتجات والخبز التي يقل سمكها عن 15 ميكرون.

في الواقع، لم نشهد أي تغيير هام إلى الآن، فإلى حد اللحظة، هذا الأمر الحكومي ساري المفعول في الصيدليات والمراكز التجارية فقط، ولن يتم توسيع نطاق تطبيقه على باقي “المُصنعين والموردين والمستهلكين” قبل غرة جانفي 2021. ووفقا لمقال صادر في النسخة التونسية من التقرير الخاص بالبلاستيك الذي وقع نشره مؤخرا من طرف منظمة هاينريش بول تحت عنوان ’’ أطلس البلاستيك ‘‘، سبق للمساحات التجارية الكبرى أن أوقفت استعمال الأكياس البلاستيكية إثر التوصل لاتفاق غير رسمي سنة 2015 بين وزارة البيئة والشؤون المحلية والاتحاد التونسي للصناعة والتجارة والصناعات التقليدية.

عنون أنيس الڨرفي ذلك المقال’’ نحو منع الأكياس البلاستيكية ذات الاستعمال الوحيد في تونس‘‘ (متوفر حاليا في نسخة ورقية فقط). أنيس أيضا من بين من ساهموا في صياغة الأمر الحكومي عدد 32.

’’خدمت على هذا الأمر طوال 3 سنوات. صحيح أن صياغة القانون مهمة سهلة ولكن… ليس من السهل العمل على إيجاد حل بالتنسيق مع كل الأطراف المتدخلة بما في ذلك منظمة الأعراف والمصنعين والمستهلكين والحكومة ‘‘أضاف الڨرفي خلال حلقة النقاش الثلاثاء.

وفقا لنضال عطية، أحد أعضاء حلقة النقاش ومنسق أحد برامج هاينريش بول تونس، الجهة المنظمة للحدث، إعطاء الأولوية لمنع الأكياس البلاستيكية ذات الاستعمال الوحيد يعود في جزء منه للنطاق الواسع للمشكلة. وبيّن عطية أن الأرقام الرسمية تشير إلى 4.2 مليار كيس في تونس سنويا، ما يعادل 400 كيس لكل تونسي تقريبا.

كما صرح عطية لموقع مشكال أن ’’ العدد هائل لأنك تصادف هذه الأكياس أينما ذهبت‘‘، مبينًا في نفس السياق أن الانعكاسات المرئية والبيئية عجّلت من المجهودات الرامية لتقليص هذا العدد.

تعتبر ألمانيا أكبر مستعمل للبلاستيك على الصعيد الأوروبي، معضلة أقرّتها منظمة هاينريش بول الألمانية خلال الكلمة الافتتاحية. هايكة لوشمان، مديرة مكتب المنظمة في تونس، انتهزت هذه الكلمة لتسليط الضوء على مجموعة من الحلول للحد من النفايات البلاستيكية المتراكمة، والتي يمكن لكل الحكومات والأفراد اعتمادها، من قبيل خفض الاستهلاك ومنع المواد البلاستيكية ذات الاستعمال الوحيد ومساءلة المصنعين فضلا عن الترويج لتصاميم منتجات أكثر استدامة.

تضمّن هذا اللقاء، الذي استقطب أكثر من 100 شخص، محاضرة من طرف قريفنز أوتشينق أوتشولا، الذي سبق أن عمل على المشاكل البيئية مثل النفايات البلاستيكية مع عدة منظمات غير حكومية في كينيا. وتناول أوتشولا في سياق حديثه نتائج الجهود المماثلة لمنع الأكياس البلاستيكية ذات الاستعمال الوحيد في كينيا، حيث سعت الحكومة الكينية بصفة متكررة لمنع هذا النوع من الأكياس، وشملت تلك المحاولات ثلاث قوانين منفصلة بين 2005 و2011، آلت جميعها بالفشل أولم يتم إنفاذها. ولم يتم سن قانون ذو نجاعة إلا في سنة 2017، متمتعا بدعم حملة واسعة على وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي نجحت في إعادة تشكيل الرأي العام في علاقة بالمسألة.

على الرغم من قانون المنع، الذي فرض غرامات باهضه وحتى عقوبات سجنية كجزاء للانتهاكات، لا تزال السوق الموازية، خاصة تلك الموجودة على المناطق الحدودية، تشهد استعمالا واسعا لأكياس البلاستيك ذات الاستعمال الوحيد كما تتسبب الأكياس البديلة في كينيا بدورها في مشاكل بيئية.

مواطن الشغل والمشاكل الاجتماعية

من بين التحديات التي تقف عائقا أمام سن قانون يحظر الأكياس البلاستيكية، تبرز المخاوف النابعة من فقدان مواطن شغل في المصانع المنتجة لهذه الأكياس. بيد أن الڨرفي أكد أن عدد مواطن الشغل المرتبطة مباشرةً بصناعة الأكياس البلاستيكية لا يتجاوز 920 وأن هذه المصانع ستكون قادرة بسهولة على تحويل منوال إنتاجها تجاه أنواع أخرى من تلك الأكياس البلاستيكية المُسمات ’’ بالقابلة للتحلل‘‘.

شدد الڨرفي على ضرورة تعريف ما نعنيه بصفة ’’قابلة للتحلل‘‘، إذ الأكياس المصنفة قانونيا بالقابلة للتحليل لا يمكن تحويلها إلى سماد إلا وفقا لمتطلبات صناعية محددة ودرجة حرارة عالية ومستويات معينة من الأوكسيجين.

’’ لا يمكنك أن ترمي الأكياس القابلة للتحلل في الطبيعة وتقول، لا بأس، إنها قابلة للتحلل” هكذا حذّر الڨرفي.

يدعو الڨرفي في مقاله إلى ’’ التعجيل في إرساء منظومة تجميع الأكياس القابلة للتحلل وتركيز وحدات تحويلها إلى السماد.‘‘

عندما سؤل عن انعكاسات هذه المرافق المُصنعة للسماد المرتبطة بالكربون والطاقة والإيكولوجيا، أجاب الڨرفي بأنه غير متأكد من ذلك مع أنه يعتقد أنها لا تحتاج إلى الكثير من الطاقة. ذهب آخرون إلى اعتبار عملية تحويل البلاستيك الى سماد غير فعالة من حيث كلفتها فضلا عن الوقت الطويل الذي تستغرقه، أو أنها لا تسير وفق ما يُسوقُ لها.

كما أوضحت أحلام هلالي، دكتورة وناشطة مدنية مشاركة في حلقة النقاش، أن التلوث البلاستيكي يتسبب في انعكاسات سلبية خطيرة على الصحة، مبينةً بمعية المتدخلين أن البشر يبتعلون معدل خمس غرامات من البلاستيك أسبوعيا، ما يعادل بطاقةً بنكية.

Ahlem Hellali (R) speaking at a panel event on plastic waste in Tunis, March 3, 2020 beside Oumayma Rejeb (C).

أشارت الهلالي الى دراسة أجريت سنة 2017 في منطقة صناعية في زغوان تهدف لقياس الأثار الصحية للتعرض للبلاستيك الصناعي لدى عمّال الشركات المصنعة لقطع السيارات، وخلُصت الدراسة الى أن العاملين على هذه المواد أكثر عرضة للإصابة بالربو وأمراض تنفسية أخرى بالمقارنة مع باقي السكان. وأضافت أن هذه الدراسة من الدراسات النادرة التي تناولت هذه المسألة في تونس.

أعرب أحد الحاضرين عن استيائها من عدم القدرة على إيجاد بدائل للبلاستيك في حياتها اليومية.

“جيت هنا مدفوعةً باهتمامي بمسألة البلاستيك. لطالما قمت بطرح سؤال على نفسي في داري، ديما الفكرة هذه في بالي كيفاش انا ماعادش نستعمل البلاستيك، ولكن مانجمش، ما ثماش بديل، خاصة في كوجينا نستعمله عالاخر.” صرحت سيدة من الحضور عرفت نفسها باسم عبير.

اقترح أحد المحاضرين على عبير أن تبحث على بعض البدائل من خلال إيلاء مزيد من الاهتمام لخياراتها الاستهلاكية.

كما عبّر أحد الحاضرين، وهو شاب لم يقدم نفسه، عن رغبته في أن يشهد إغلاق مصب النفايات الموجود في حيِّه، حيّ سيدي حسين، أحد أحياء تونس الشعبية، بما يتماشى ومقتضيات مرسوم مؤرخ في 2009.

وقال الرجل: ’’ حبيت نستغل الفرصة هذه بوجود عديد الناشطين البيئيين “، مضيفا ان ” 2500 طن [من النفايات] يوميا يدخلوا بطريقة غير مُراقبة، فيه النفايات الطبية والي هو ممنوع. وفيه نفايات المسالخ. يقولو ان المائدة المائية تأثرت وفيها تسربات. 150.000 طن نفايات في المصب منهم 40% بلاستيك شنوا بش ينجم يكون الأثر متاعه على البيئة إذا كان تسكر المصب بطريقة عشوائية والا تواصل المصب.”

حظيت مداخلة الشاب بالتصفيق أثناء اختتام الحدث.

تمت ترجمة هذه المقالة من قبل محمد شريف الزرعي

After Banning Some Plastic Bags, Debate Over Next Steps

Main Photo: A person from Sidi Hassine in the audience at a panel event in Tunis on March 3, 2020 on plastic waste speaks out about the hazardous waste dump in his neighborhood which has yet to be closed down years after an official decision to do so. Photo by Fadil Aliriza.

After Banning Some Plastic Bags, Debate Over Next Steps

Friday, March 5, 2020

Tunis – Fadil Aliriza

As a decree banning some types of bags goes into effect this month, many are looking for new steps to take to further reduce plastic waste.

“Banning plastic bags, this is a good thing, but at the same time we can go further. We have straws that are used everywhere, in restaurants. Same thing with plastic forks, knives, plates,” Oumayma Rejeb, secretary general of a group called Zero Waste that gives workshops on waste sorting and recycling, said at a panel event on Tuesday, March 3.

Just two days earlier, a partial ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect in accordance with decree No32, 2020. The decree defines these as bags that are less than 40 microns thick, meaning that thicker bags and those made from other materials may still be produced. Smaller plastic bags for produce and bread which are under 15 microns thick are also exempt from the law.

In effect, this hasn’t changed much yet. The decree only goes into effect in pharmacies and in “commercial centers” so far, with wider implementation expanding to all “producers, importers and bearers” on January 1, 2021. Large shopping malls had already stopped using plastic bags after an informal agreement was made between the Ministry of Environment and Local Affairs and the main chamber of commerce, UTICA, in 2015, according to an article in the Tunisian version of a report on plastic, entitled Plastic Atlas, recently released by the Heinrich Boll Foundation (HBS).

The author of that article entitled “Vers L’Interdiction Des Sacs Plastiques À Usage Unique En Tunisie,” (currently only available in print copy), Anis Guerfi, is also one of the authors of decree No32.

“I worked on the decree for three years. It’s true the law is easy to make but… it’s not as easy to find a solution in concert with all the stakeholders including UTICA, producers, consumers, the government,” Guerfi said at Tuesday’s panel event.

According to Nidhal Attia, one of the panelists and a program coordinator for the HBS Tunisia office which hosted Tuesday’s event, the prioritization of banning single-use plastic bags was partly because the scale of the problem is so large. Attia said that official figures put the number of bags used in Tunisia at 4.2 billion per year, or roughly 400 bags per Tunisian.

“This was too much because you find it everywhere,” Attia told Meshkal. The visual and environmental effects of this helped create urgency around reducing the number, he added.

Germany is the top user of plastics in Europe, a problem that organizers from the German HBS acknowledged in their opening remarks. Heike Löschmann, the director of HBS Tunisia office, used her opening remarks to highlight solutions to excessive plastic waste that all governments or individuals could take, such as reducing consumption, stopping all single-use plastics use and holding producers to account while promoting sustainable product design.

The event, which drew over 100 people, featured a lecture by a Griffins Ochieng Ochola who has worked with several non-governmental organizations in Kenya on environmental issues including plastic waste. Ochola described the outcomes of similar efforts to ban single-use plastic bags in Kenya. According to Ochola, the Kenyan government had made several attempts to ban such bags, including passing three separate laws between 2005 and 2011, all of which failed or were not enforced. It was not until 2017 that a ban was finally enacted with some effect after a major social media campaign succeeded in shifting public opinion around the issue.

Despite the ban, which carried steep fines and even jail time for violations, informal markets, particularly near border regions, continue to see the widespread use of single-use plastic bags. Alternative bags in Kenya also appear to pose environmental problems.

Jobs and Social Issues

One challenge to enacting a ban on plastic bags has been concerns over job losses at the factories that manufacture them. But according to Guerfi, only 920 jobs were directly linked to manufacturing plastic bags and those factories that produce them will largely be able to shift production to other types of so-called “biodegradable” plastic bags.

Guerfi was careful to note that the “biodegradable” moniker needs to be qualified. The bags designated as biodegradable under the law can only be composted under very specific industrial conditions, with high temperature and particular levels of oxygen.

“Biodegradable bags, you can’t just throw them in nature and say, it’s fine, its biodegradable,” Guerfi said.

In his article, Guerfi advocated “urgently introducing a collection system for biodegradable bags and setting up industrial composting units.”

Asked about the potential carbon, energy, or ecological impacts of such composting facilities, Guerfi responded that he was unsure but that he believes they don’t require a lot of energy. Others have found that compostable plastic processing is not cost effective, takes a long time, or is not operating as advertised.

Ahlem Hellali, a doctor and civil society activist who was a panelist at the event, explained that plastic pollution also creates serious negative health effects. She and others at the panel noted that humans on average ingest about five grams of plastic per week, equivalent to about an ATM card.

Ahlem Hellali (R) speaking at a panel event on plastic waste in Tunis, March 3, 2020 beside Oumayma Rejeb (C).

Hellali said one 2017 study had been carried out in Zaghouan in an industrial zone to measure the health effects of industrial plastic exposure among car-part manufacturers who work with the material, discovering that they have higher incidence of asthma and other respiratory illnesses than the general population. According to Hellali, that study was one of very few that exist on the issue in Tunisia.

One audience member expressed exasperation at not being able to find alternatives to plastic in her daily life.

“I came here because I’m interested in the topic of plastic. I already always pose the question to myself in my house. The question in my head is always how can I stop using plastic, but I can’t. There’s no alternative. Especially in the kitchen I use it a lot,” said an audience member who identified herself as Abir.

One panelist responded to Abir suggesting she could find alternatives by giving more attention to her consumption choices.

Another audience member, a young man who did not give a name, said that he wants the waste dump in his neighborhood of Sidi Hassine, one of the poorer neighborhoods in Tunisia, to be closed in accordance with an official decision to do so dating back to 2009.

“I wanted to use this opportunity while there are environmental activists here,” the man said. “2500 tons [of waste] come in every day uncontrolled. Some medical waste is coming in which is actually illegal. Slaughterhouse waste is coming in. The water table is being contaminated. 40 percent of it is plastic. It will have an environmental impact whether the dump continues or even if it is closed haphazardly.”

His comment drew applause as the event concluded.

Tunis Events Calendar: Week of March 2-8, 2020

Main photo: A street in the medina of Tunis on Thursday, February 27. Photo by Fadil Aliriza

Tunis Events Calendar: Week of March 2-8, 2020

Monday, March 2, 2020

Tunis – Meshkal news team

Every Monday, Meshkal compiles a calendar of political, cultural, and economic events taking place in Tunis for the week. No events included appear to require an entry fee. Some events are announced during the week and so may not be included at the time the events calendar is published.

Monday, March 2:

9:30 – Parliament’s Committee investigating the deadly bus crash in Amdoun is scheduled to hold a meeting to continue the examination of its report, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

13:30 – Parliament’s Committee on Administrative Reform, Good Governance, Anti-Corruption and Oversight of Public Finance Management is scheduled to hold a hearing with experts from the Tunisian Institute of Strategic Studies concerning “brain drain” and the loss of experts, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

Tuesday, March 3:

9:00 – Parliament is scheduled to hold a plenary (full) session to consider amending the electoral law (organic law no16/2014 of May 26, 2014, last amended as no7/2017 of February 14, 2017), according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

17:00 – Book presentation and signing for the book “Wassila Bourguiba, La Main invisible,” by historian Noureddine Dougui. Location: Al Kitab bookstore, La Marsa

18:00 – A “Green Lecture” on the topic of “Ending Plastic Pollution in Tunisia” is being hosted by the Heinrich Boll Foundation. Location: Culture City.

Wednesday, March 4:

9:00 – Parliament is scheduled to hold a plenary (full) session to consider: bill no68/2019 approving a financial cooperation agreement with Germany for the year 2017; bill no62/2019 granting a license to the State to subscribe for equity from the company operating in the technology complex of Manouba; organic law no13/2019 approving actions adopted by the 24th congress of the Universal Postal Union; organic law no14/2019 approving actions adopted by the 25th congress of the Universal Postal Union; organic law no69/2019 approving the founding agreement of the Free-Exchange Zone of Continental Africa; organic law no79/2019 approving the convention creating the Global Alliance of Arid Zones; organic law no77/2019 approving the Statute of the Pan-African Organization of Intellectual Property (OPAPI by its French acronym) adopted in Addis Ababa on January 31, 2016. During the session, Parliament is also scheduled to hold votes on the following bills: organic law no93/2018 approving an agreement with the Republic of Guinea concerning the international transportation of people and goods by road; organic bill no94/2018 approving a cooperation agreement with the Republic of Djibouti concerning maritime travel and ports; organic bill no10/2019 approving a cooperation agreement with the Republic of Sudan concerning maritime travel, navigation, and commerce; organic bill No 48/2019 approving an agreement with the nation of Qatar concerning air transport between the two countries, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

Thursday, March 5:

9:00 – Parliament is scheduled to continue its plenary session from the previous day, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

Friday, March 6:

10:00 – Presentation of the Arab Barometer 2019 Country Report on Tunisia by professor Mark Tessler, hosted by the Centre d’Études Maghrebines à Tunis (CEMAT). Location: Law and Political Science Faculty, Manar Campus Conference Room.

Saturday, March 7:

17:00 – Presentation by Moroccan illustrator Zainab Fasiki, hosted by Nachaz discussion group and moderated by Shams Radhouani Abdi. Location: Mille Feuilles bookshop, La Marsa.

17:00 – Presentation of a book of photography called “Tunisia Inside Out,” by Pétra Dachtler. Location: Fahrenheit 451 bookstore.

Sunday, March 8:

8:30 – Training and competition in human rights issues for primary and secondary school students, hosted by the Ariana municipality. Location: Bir Belhassen Park, Ariana

Tunis Events Calendar: Week of February 24-March 1, 2020

Main photo: A sign in a forest near El Krib in Siliana governorate, February 7, 2020 reading “Preserve your country.” Photo by Fadil Aliriza.

Tunis Events Calendar: Week of February 24-March 1, 2020 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Tunis – Meshkal news team

Every Monday, Meshkal compiles a calendar of political, cultural, and economic events taking place in Tunis for the week. No events included appear to require an entry fee. Some events are announced during the week and so may not be included at the time the events calendar is published.

Monday, February 24:

9:30 – Parliament’s Committee on Elections is scheduled to hold deliberations over the proposed evaluation criteria for candidates of the Commission on Sustainable Development and the Rights of Future Generations, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

9:30 – Parliament’s Committee investigating the deadly bus crash in Amdoun is scheduled to continue its discussion on the findings of its report, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

9:30 – Parliament’s Committee on Martyrs and Wounded of the Revolution and of the Implementation of the General Amnesty Law and Transitional Justice is scheduled to hold a hearing with representatives of the government in charge of the dossier of beneficiaries of the General Amnesty Fund and representatives of civil society concerning the status of the dossier, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

10:00 – Parliament’s Defense and Security Committee is scheduled to hold a reading of its report on its site visit to the Choucha refugee camp and the border at Ras Jedir and to organize its priorities for future meetings, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

13:30 – Parliament’s Committee on Tunisia Diaspora Affairs is scheduled to hold a reading of legal documents related to the committee and to hear from the Director of the National Council of Tunisians Abroad to negotiate problems around establishing the council and beginning its work, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

13:30 – Parliament’s Committee on Administrative Reform, Good Governance, Anti-Corruption and Oversight of Public Finance Management is scheduled to hold a hearing with the Director General of Customs concerning the degree of participation of the Tunisian Customs agency in the fight against contraband, parallel trade, and national and economic protection; efforts and procedures taken to ensure the proper administration of the Customs agency and the fight against corruption within it; and other problems confronting Customs in the course of its duties and means of reforming and further developing the agency, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

Tuesday, February 25:

9:00 – Day one of two-day expo on Green Building. Location: Palais des Congrès.

9:00 – Parliament’s Committee for the Organization of the Administration and Armed Forces Affairs is scheduled to hear from the Order of Accountants concerning bill No81/2019 relating to the administration of taxation and of businesses and public institutions, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

9:00 – Parliament’s Committee on Finance, Planning and Development is scheduled to hear from the National Union Chamber of Wholesale Pharmaceutical Distributors to discuss bill No5/2020 approving a deal with the Qatari Development Fund relating to the opening of a bureau for the latter; to discuss bill No17/2019 approving a loan agreement finalized in Tunisia on December 12, 2018 with the German Foundation for Loans for Reconstruction to finance a program supporting reforms in the water sector (second phase); and to approve the committee’s report concerning bill No11/2020, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

??:?? – Parliament’s Committee on Youth and Cultural Affairs, Education and Scientific Research is scheduled to hold a field visit, according to parliament’s official website. The time, location, and topic of the visit are unspecified on the website.

??:?? – Parliament’s Committee on Health and Social Affairs is scheduled to hold a meeting at an unspecified time on an unspecified topic, according to parliament’s official website.

Wednesday, February 26:

9:00 – Conference on the topic of “The Governance of Public Services for the Private Sector,” hosted by the business group the Confédération des Entreprises Citoyennes de Tunisie (CONECT) the state’s National Anti-Corruption Authority (INLUCC). Registration is requested in advance. Program available here. Location: Mechtel Hotel, Tunis.

9:00 – Parliament is scheduled to hold a plenary (full) session to hold a vote of confidence in the government as provided for in the provisions of article 89 of the constitution and article 142 of Parliament’s Rules and Procedures, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

10:00 – Day two of two-day expo on Green Building. Location: Palais des Congrès.

18:00 – The discussion series “Politics Café” organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung is hosting another session. Location: le 4ème art café.

13:00 – Conference on the topic of “Freedom of Expression Before and After the Revolution,” including a film screening and debates and presentations on activism, politics, theatre, cinema, and journalism. Location: Law Faculty (Faculté des Sciences Juridiques, Politiques, et Sociales de Tunis), room 17 Dali Jazi.

Thursday, February 27:

9:00 – Day one of two-day conference on the topic of “The Digital Revolution,” hosted by the Order of Tunisian Accountants. Registration is requested in advance. Location: Culture City.

9:00 – Parliament’s Committee on the Rules of Procedure, Immunity, Electoral Laws and Parliamentary Laws is scheduled to continue its discussion on proposed amendments to Parliament’s Rules and Procedures, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

13:00 – Workshop entitled “An Introduction to Gender!” hosted by Mawjoudin. Registration is requested in advance. Location: ENAU (National School of Architecture and Urbanism), University of Carthage.

??:?? – Parliament’s Committee on Health and Social Affairs is scheduled to hold a meeting at an unspecified time on an unspecified topic, according to parliament’s official website.

Friday, February 28:

9:00 – Day two of two-day conference on the topic of “The Digital Revolution,” hosted by the Order of Tunisian Accountants. Registration is requested in advance. Location: Culture City.

9:00 – Parliament’s Committee on the Rules of Procedure, Immunity, Electoral Laws and Parliamentary Laws is scheduled to continue its discussion on proposed amendments to Parliament’s Rules and Procedures, according to Marsad Majles, the parliamentary watchdog project of NGO Al Bawsala.

15:00 – The American African Union is hosting a conference on “Peace and Prosperity” in Libya. Location: American African Union, Lafayette.

Saturday, February 29:

9:00 – Conference on the topic of “The Role of the State in Tunisia in the Democratic Transition,” hosted by Forum de L’Académie Politique and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. Location: Sheraton Hotel.

10:00 – Workshop on urban agriculture hosted by El-Khouma Khir. Location: Hafsia

15:00 – Roundtable discussion on the topic of “Tunisian Consumption between Modernity and Traditions,” hosted by the Health and Environment Association. Location: Mechtel Hotel, Tunis.