News 16/02/2024

Protecting freedom of association in Tunisia – Joint civil society declaration

Organizations, associations, activists, and social actors participating in the meeting of civil society organizations for the preservation of Decree 88 regarding the regulation of associations, held on February 9th, 2024, state that: 

We remind that civil society has been present, foundational, active, resistant, and has accumulated all the milestones of the struggle of the Tunisian people, from the fight for independence to the revolution for freedom and dignity, and to the stage of democratic construction. It has remained engaged despite restrictions and all attempts to undermine, mislead, and compromise rights and freedoms in national affairs. 

We defend the achievements of the Revolution for freedom and dignity, the most important of which are freedom of expression, freedom of the press and media, and freedom of organization, including freedom of association, enshrined in Decree No. 88 of 2011. This decree not only legalized civil work but also contributed to its diversification and made it an independent and essential pillar for promoting democracy, equality, and development. 

We are alarmed by the increasing targeting of associative work by authorities, primarily through various types of restrictions on the creation, activity, and financing of associations, by prosecuting their members and professionals, by rhetoric of treason and defamation, accusing anyone different of being unpatriotic and serving foreign agendas, and by efforts to amend the decree regulating associative work towards an authoritarian law that undermines civil society freedom and cancels its role as a force for control and suggestion. This political trend aims to silence the voices of actors and stakeholders in civil and political fields in order to control the public space and the judiciary. This occurs within a general context that, since the announcement of the exceptional measures, has been characterized by intensified efforts to establish authoritarian rule by domesticating the judiciary, silencing the media, dismantling oversight bodies, besieging civil and political forces, reducing the space for public participation, and instilling an atmosphere of intimidation by employing a number of legal texts hostile to freedoms, including “Decree No. 54 of 2022 on combating crimes related to information and communication systems”, to attack freedom of expression and stifle free and oppositional voices. 

We recall that Decree No. 88 of 2011 is one of the most important achievements of the revolution and embodies the aspirations of our people and its various forces for freedom, participation in public affairs, and contribution to national progress at all political, cultural, economic, and social levels. We emphasize that this decree is in line with constitutional and international standards concerning the freedom of civil space, considered an essential criterion for the progress of states and peoples, and also enshrines mechanisms ensuring good governance of associations and the compliance of their objectives, management, financing, and activities with the principles of democracy, transparency, integrity, and rejection of violence, terrorism, and corruption. 

We declare: 

  • Our adherence to Decree 88 of 2011 as the legal framework for regulating associations that guarantees their freedom, supports their independence, and strengthens their role as a watchdog, lobbying force, and proposing partner in solidarity with the state’s efforts in all developmental, environmental, economic, social, educational, cultural, and health fields. 
  • We consider any revision of the decree as a restriction on associative freedom and a setback of the democratic achievements since 2011, especially since many legal texts have been enacted to restrict public and individual freedoms, notably Decree 54 of 2022 concerning crimes related to information and communication systems. 
  • We alert to the frequency of hostile discourses towards civil work in its various forms and the deliberate spread of fake news and misleading public opinions about the work of associations (sources of funding, relationship with Tunisia’s international partners, migration policies…) and its effects on Tunisian societal fabric. 
  • We call on authorities to respect the freedom and independence of civil society work as a key actor in national affairs in all its dimensions, expressing the diversity and pluralism of society, and defending human rights in their universality and comprehensiveness without discrimination, and to cease harassing civil society and its activists and partners.