Press Conference: On the 10th Anniversary of Guantanamo 5 Tunisians Remain

January 9, 2012

Image of Shaker behind bars

11 January 2012 will mark the 10-year anniversary of the opening of the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.

In that time, 779 men have been detained—only seven of whom have ever had any sort of trial. All have been abused and many have gone on hunger strikes to protest the conditions in which they are held. Eight have died. Two years ago President Obama pledged to close the notorious prison.  He has broken that promise.

Five Tunisian citizens remain in Guantanamo.  They have never been charged with any crime.  These men have watched the Tunisian revolution from afar, witnessing their fellow Tunisians’ path towards freedom, while they are deprived of freedom themselves.

Previously, the risk of torture under the Ben Ali regime meant the 5 remaining Tunisian detainees could not safely return home. But now, given Tunisia’s transition to democracy, there is nothing to prevent these Tunisian citizens returning to their country. Since the Tunisian revolution, the country has taken its place as a leader in the Arab world and has already shown its democratic spirit by releasing hundreds of political prisoners in an effort to remove the stench left by the human rights abuses perpetuated by the former regime. However, the Tunisian revolution is incomplete whilst Tunisian citizens in Guantanamo are not able to enjoy the fruits of the Arab Spring.

Now is a crucial time to raise the issue of the fate of these 5 men, given the changes in Tunisia and the opportunity to address human rights abuses against all prisoners, including those in Guantanamo. It is a particularly good opportunity for the Tunisian Government to continue to lead the Arab World in its commitment to justice.

According to Rafiq Al-Hammi, held in Guantanamo for eight years without charge or trial before being resettled in Slovakia, and who was finally able to return home to Tunisia in March 2011 after the revolution: “The years I spent in detention were unimaginable. I never knew if I would be able to return to my family and my homeland, and I was never informed of why I was being held, or given a chance to defend myself at trial. Since my return to Tunisia, I have finally been reunited with my family and have been able to experience normal life again. I have very high hopes for my future here.”

WHO:             Polly Rossdale, Reprieve

WHAT:           Press conference: On the 10th Anniversary of Guantanamo 5 Tunisians Remain

WHERE:         Tunis, Tunisia

WHEN:           11:00, 11 January 2012

For more information contact Polly Rossdale: 216 550 11148 (Tunis) or +44 0207 427 1097 (London).

Notes for Editors:

1) Of the 171 prisoners remaining at Guantánamo, five Tunisians are being held. While 89 prisoners have been cleared for release and pose no threat whatsoever to the United States or any other nation, only a small handful of men have actually been released under Obama. This is due to insufficient political and public pressure on the US to release the remaining cleared prisoners. Another obstacle is that the US does not believe that some men can be safely repatriated to their home countries and no resettlement country has been secured.

2) A total of 12 Tunisians have been held at Guantánamo.  Seven have been released (2 to Tunisia, 5 were resettled in European third countries).

3) Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 27 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve has represents a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’