Contributor(s)Avocats sans frontières / experts indépendants

Special populations

Number and percentage of female prisoners

2.9 % (678)
i
01/01/2019
/ Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, "Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien", November 2019, p. 39.

Female prisoners are housed in a dedicated facility, the Manouba prison, or in female-only wings of the following prisons: Sfax Harboub, le Kef, Gafsa, Kasserine, Sousse-Mesaadine and Jendouba. The occupation rate of the Manouba prison (91%) is lower than that of male-only prisons. Prison cells are multi-occupancy, with around 40 women in each. As of 1 January 2019, the Manouba prison housed 397 female prisoners.

There is an effective separation between men and women

yes

Untried female prisoners are separated from the convicted

no

The prison staff is

exclusively female

Searches of female prisoners are conducted by female staff.

Conjugal visits are allowed for women

the law does not mention conjugal visits

Pregnant women are housed in specific units or cells

yes

Female prisoners who are pregnant or breastfeeding are housed in a specially equipped space (Law no. 200-58). Such spaces are provided in the Manouba, Sousse-Messaadine, Sfax and Harboub prisons.1
Female prisoners who are pregnant or breastfeeding cannot be placed in isolation.


  1. Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 100. 

Pregnant women receive proper prenatal care

yes

Mothers are allowed to keep their children with them

yes, until the age of two

The Manouba prison is equipped with a dedicated space for the care of young children.

The law states that the personnel supervising young children must be dressed in civilian clothes.1


  1. Law no. 2008-58, 4 August 2018, which relates to prisoners who are mothers, pregnant, or breastfeeding. 

The law bans the imprisonment of minors

no

Imprisonment of children is permitted for particularly serious crimes.

Minimum age of juvenile incarceration

13 years old

The age of criminal responsibility is set at age 13.

Incarcerated minors

0.2 % (50)
i
01/01/2019
/ Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, "Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien", November 2019, p. 39.

Ministry in charge of juvenile offenders

Ministry of Justice

Prisons for juvenile offenders fall under the remit of the General Directorate of Prisons and Rehabilitation.

Offenders between the ages of 13 and 15 years are considered to be “juvenile offenders” (Child Protection Code). They are subject to specific legal measures:

  • Preventative and educational measures must be prioritised
  • Police custody should be avoided
  • Temporary detention for minor offences and misdemeanours is forbidden
  • Apart from in cases of murder, the judge may decriminalise a crime (Article 69 of the Penal Code)
  • Crimes are reduced by half, and cannot exceed five years
  • A prison sentence of ten years must replace a death sentence, or one of life imprisonment (Article 43 of the Penal Code)1

  1. Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 31. 

Minors aged between 13 and 15 are held within “rehabilitation centres for juvenile offenders”. There are seven such institutions, one of which is for girls only.
Juvenile offenders in adult prisons must be housed in a dedicated area within the prison.

Figures on juvenile prisoners are published

on an irregular basis

Juvenile prisoners are separated from adults

yes

Adults and juvenile offenders may interact during communal activities (e.g. exercise or other activities). Separation is strictly enforced only at night.

The law provides for single cell accommodation for juvenile prisoners

no

The law prohibits strip searches for juvenile prisoners

yes

The law forbids solitary confinement for juvenile prisoners

yes

Professional and agricultural training is available to juvenile offenders.

Foreign prisoners are informed of their right to communicate with their consular representatives

-

Citizens of the European Union or of the USA are able to receive visits from consular officials, prison visitors and chaplains.
Prisoners from sub-Saharan Africa are usually not entitled to consular assistance. They may be discriminated against and are more isolated.

Foreign prisoners can be assisted by an interpreter

in some cases

The administrative authorities do not usually provide foreign prisoners with an interpreter. The prisoner must seek help from fellow prisoners who speak both their language and the language of the administrative authorities. The most frequently-requested languages are French and English. This does not guarantee confidentiality, especially for complaints.
An interpreter’s services must be guaranteed for non-Arabic or non-French speakers during disciplinary hearings (see ‘Discipline’). In practice, these services are provided only in cases deemed serious.

Illegal residence is not punishable by prison sentence. People residing in Tunisia illegally are held, in anticipation of their deportation, in places of police custody. These are often located in airports. Such places fall under the authority of the Home Office.

Foreign prisoners are allowed to work while incarcerated

yes

Phone calls are not permitted in prison, including for foreign prisoners.

The law does not stipulate specific prison conditions for foreign prisoners. They are housed in the same areas as Tunisian prisoners and have the same rights.

A long-term sentence is considered as such as of

-

Long sentences are not defined precisely, because the duration of such sentences does not affect the allocation of a prisoner to specific prisons.

Cumulative sentences have a limit

no

Aggregate sentences are common in crimes related to bad debt. Each instance of debt results in a separate accusation. Sentences can range from eight months to five years in prison.

There are specific prison facilities for long-term prisoners

no

People serving long sentences do not have a specific detention regime.

Life sentences are banned

no

Juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Crimes deemed to be serious, such as murder, are punishable by life imprisonment.

There are specific prison facilities for life-sentenced prisoners

no

People serving long sentences do not have a specific detention regime.

52.16 %

i
04/03/2019
/ The General Directorate of Prisons and Rehabilitation, quoted in Lawyers without Borders, "Campaign against overcrowding in prisons in Tunisia", September 2019, p. 2.

Variation in the number of untried prisoners

no variation

In 2018, people kept in pre-trial custody made up 52.8% of prisoners in Tunisia.

Untried prisoners are separated from the convicted

no

Untried and convicted prisoners should theoretically be housed separately, but in practice this is not always respected.

The law provides for release on bail for untried prisoners

yes

Bail serves as a guarantee for the payment of legal fees for the accused, the victim and any fines levied should the accused person be sentenced. The amount of the fine is determined in advance. The sum is made payable to the public Treasury and is paid if the person fails “to provide a legitimate excuse” in the relevant documents, or during the trial. The funds are returned in the event of dismissal or acquittal.1


  1. Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, pp. 297-298. 

Custody lasts 24 hours for misdemeanours and 48 hours for criminal offences. It may be extended once. It may last up to 15 days for terrorism charges. Immediate and frequent summons lead to many custody arrangements. The accused is then placed in a ‘detention prison’.
The maximum duration of pre-trial custody, enshrined in law, is six months. It can be extended to nine months for misdemeanours, and 14 months for criminal offences. These deadlines are often exceeded, especially when they fall under the jurisdiction of the Indictments Chamber.
Trial deadlines are never set. Some people can await their trial for two or three years, or even more. Defendants regularly protest against this, in particular through hunger strikes.

Any untried prisoner can apply for release at any stage of the proceedings. They can request bail. The investigating judge must rule within four days of receipt of the request, but may defer to the Indictments Chamber. Their response is required within the following eight days. If rejected, the appeal is brought before the Indictments Chamber within four days. The public prosecutor may also appeal against approval or rejection. This decision may not be appealed. A request for release may be made again one month later, if it is clear that circumstances have changed.1


  1. Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, pp. 297 – 299. 

There is no provision to ensure a detention regime compatible with the presumption that a person is ‘innocent until proven guilty’ (individual cells, free access to work, or confidentiality of communication). The overcrowding observed in prisons leads to particularly challenging conditions (such as poor hygiene, lack of healthcare, ill-treatment etc.).

The prosecution or imprisonment of a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity is banned

no

Homosexuality is punishable by law (Article 230 of the Penal Code). LGBTI prisoners may be arrested for acts of indecency and public morality (Article 226 and 226A), prostitution (Article 231), and pimping (Article 232).

  • During the 2019 universal periodic review before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Tunisian state reported that 15 people were imprisoned between 2013 and 2017 for male homosexuality, and one person was imprisoned between 2015 and 2016 for female homosexuality.
    The Civil Collective for Individual Liberties notes 120 proceedings for homosexuality in 2018.

LGBTI persons are separated from other prisoners

in some cases

Homosexuality is highly stigmatised in Tunisia. People who identify as homosexual, transsexual or transgender may be housed together within prisons in order to protect them. A dedicated cell is available in the Mornaguia detention house.

The prison administrative services do not provide any protection for LGBTI people apart from placing them together in a dedicated cell. This measure does not give them sufficient protection against potential verbal or physical violence from fellow prisoners or from members of the prison staff.1


  1. Tunisian Coalition for the rights of LGBTQI individuals, “Report on the situation of LGBTQI people in Tunisia”, May 2017, p. 17. 

Assignment of transgender prisoners to a specific facility depends on

their ID gender

A change of an individual’s personal information following a sex change is generally not authorised in Tunisia. The law has accepted it on two occasions.

Transgender prisoners are entitled to customised searches

no

According to several witness statements, transgender women are subjected to “forced” searches by male prison staff.

  • A transgender woman, who has been arrested and imprisoned three times, reported to Lawyers without Borders that such searches had been less invasive during her most recent arrest. This could be explained by a mobilisation of civil society, both on a national and international level, organised between 2017 and 2018 to condemn such searches.

    i
    2017
    / All Out

Transgender prisoners benefit from specific health care

no

Conjugal visits are allowed for LGBTI prisoners

the law does not mention conjugal visits

The prison service keeps a record of elderly prisoners

no

No specific support is provided for elderly prisoners. Age is not factor in assignment.

The law does not provide for early release for elderly prisoners.

The prison service keeps a record of prisoners with disabilities

no

Prison facilities are adapted to the needs of prisoners with disabilities

some facilities

Ill or dependent people receive adapted conditions in certain prisons, such as the Mornaguia detention house.

Prisoners who have a physical or intellectual disability are not required to use a separation device for their visits, unless they are subject to disciplinary action. This applies also to prisoners’ family and friends who may be disabled.

Death penalty is abolished

no, but suspended in practice

The death penalty still exists and is still carried out. Article 7 of the Penal Code still allows the death penalty by hanging for offences linked to terrorism, and for the most serious criminal offences. No execution has taken place since 1991.
The death penalty is mentioned in the 2015 antiterrorist law as punishment for terrorist attacks which result in the death of one or more individuals.

Number of death sentences

25

i
2017
/ Amnesty International, ("Global Report on Death Sentences and Executions 2017", 2018, p. 33).

Number of death sentenced prisoners awaiting execution

77

At the time of the 2011 revolution, almost all prisoners sentenced to death had their sentenced commuted to life imprisonment.

i
2017
/ Amnesty International, ("Global Report on Death Sentences and Executions 2017", 2018, p. 33).