Tunisia conference: politicians call for the release of Tunisians at Guantánamo Bay

September 13, 2011

Legal action charity Reprieve is today bringing together key policymakers and members of civil society to discuss Tunisia’s role in bringing about the release of its citizens from Guantánamo Bay. 

The conference, which will be held today, Wednesday 14th September, at the Hotel Golden Tulip El Mechtel in Tunis, is free and open to the public. Speakers will include major political parties, former Guantánamo prisoners, lawyers and family members of current and former Tunisian prisoners.On the night the Tunisian people successfully overthrew Ben Ali’s dictatorship and began a new democratic journey, five Tunisian men had just spent their ninth anniversary of imprisonment in the notorious US naval base at Guantánamo Bay. To date, they have had neither charge nor trial. Members of the interim government, international and national human rights activists, lawyers, ex-detainees and family members have all pledged their support for this cause. Today’s conference will examine how this support can be turned into action.After an introduction by the High Commission for the Realisation of Revolutionary Goals, Political Reforms and Democratic Transition, speakers will include the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, the Renaissance Party (Ennahda), the Congress for the Republic (CPR), the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL), the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) and the Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party (PCOT). Rafiq Al-Hammi, who was held in Guantánamo for nearly a decade without charge or trial, was able to return to Tunisia after the revolution, has this to say about his return: “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.” For further information, please contact Ghada Eldemellawy at 0021655011148 or ghada.eldemellawy@reprieve.org.uk Notes for Editors: What is the current status of the prisoners at Guantánamo ? 171 prisoners remain detained at Guantánamo Bay. The Obama administration has publicly stated that 89 of these men have been cleared for release and pose no threat whatsoever to the United States or any other nation. Despite this fact, over the past year only a small handful of men have actually been released. With the upcoming elections in October, there is an opportunity for Tunisia to correct the wrongs of the past and open negotiations with the American government for the release of its citizens. A total of 12 Tunisians have been held at Guantánamo.  Seven have been released (2 to Tunisia, 5 were resettled in European third countries) and five remain.  What has been the experience of Tunisians at Guantánamo ? Under the Ben Ali regime, the Tunisians at Guantánamo  were visited by Tunisian security service agents and threatened with torture upon repatriation to Tunisian.  One Tunisian national was reportedly told: “You’ll talk soon enough when you come back to Tunisia and we do water torture in the barrel.” Indeed, threats and abuse were commonplace at the notorious prison.  From January 11, 2002, when the first planeload of jumpsuited men arrived at Guantánamo, the prisoners spent years without access to the outside world.  Brutality in interrogations was a regular occurrence and involved a blend of sleep deprivation; extremes of cold and heat; dietary manipulation; stress positions; forced nudity; sexual humiliation; religious abuse; and beatings. What is Reprieve?  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 represented, and continues to represent, 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.’