Admission and evaluation
Prisoners can inform their families about their imprisonment
There is a reception area for arriving prisoners
in some facilities
The country’s largest prisons have ‘transit rooms’. Newly arrived prisoners stay there for seven days while awaiting allocation. Extra hygiene measures are undertaken to avoid possible epidemics. Prisoners call these cells the ‘shower rooms’. Prisoners must shower, cut their hair, shave or trim their beard, cut their nails, and wash their clothes.[^manuel]
A copy of the prison regulations is made available to the prisoners
The prison governor is required to inform newly arrived prisoners of their rights and duties and potential disciplinary sanctions. (Administrative note no.59 of 23 August 2019).
The newly arrived prisoner dates and signs a copy of the facility’s internal rules and procedures (Law of 14 May 2001, Article 12). In the case of illiterate or foreign prisoners, or those with impaired vision, this information is read aloud. A prisoner of good standing is present throughout this process and co-signs the document.
The facility’s internal rules and procedures are posted in the different wings of the facility.[^manuel2]
The deputy security warden has sole discretion in deciding on the assignment of cells to prisoners. There is no right to appeal.
Cells are assigned according to availability. Other criteria include the separation of women and men and that of minors and adults.
Access to rights
Prisoners can be assisted by a lawyer throughout their incarceration
Legal representation is only required by law in criminal matters. Requests for legal assistance are made during the investigation phase or during the first public hearing to the President of the Tribunal. Legal aid (for misdemeanours) is limited to first-time offenders facing at least three years’ imprisonment. The person making the request for aid must prove that they do not have sufficient funds to cover legal costs. The right to legal defence is guaranteed by article 108 of the new constitution. The government has been called on to extend the provision of free legal assistance to all.1
Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 24. ↩
Prisoners have access to a legal aid centre
Prisoners awaiting trial can meet their lawyer without a member of the prison staff present.1 Visits in pre-trial custody are authorised in advance by judicial authorities. For misdemeanours and infractions, visit permits are issued by the department of the public prosecutor. For more serious crimes, they are granted by the investigating judge and the indictment chamber. The permits are valid for 24 hours. A lawyer must submit a new request for each visit. This time-consuming process hinders the efficacy and smooth-functioning of the service. Some lawyers request continuous visit permits, namely for foreign nationals and those charged with serious offences.
With authorisation from the DGPR, convicted prisoners may meet with their lawyers under the supervision of a member of the prison staff. This prison employee is expected to keep sufficient distance during the meeting so as to ensure the confidentiality of the exchange.
OMCT Tunisia, “Rapport relatif à la mise en œuvre d’undispositif de réclamations dans les prisons de Tunisie”, 2015, p. 16. ↩
Number of deaths in custody
The prison service must notify a judicial authority for
The prison governor must immediately inform the judicial authorities and the DGPR central administration in the event of the death of a prisoner (article 43 of law of 14 May, 2001). The Inspection of Prison Services then conducts a preliminary internal investigation.
In the event of a prisoner dying in hospital, the Health Division and Administration of the Department for Criminal Cases are required to carry forward all of the prisoner’s medical records and any documents pertaining to their conditions of imprisonment to the Inspection of Health Services unit. (Administrative Note no.67, 18 May 2017).1
Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 222. ↩
An inmate at Sfax prison has passed away. The Tunisian Human Rights League spoke out against this death and stated that the prisoner, who was diabetic, had been deprived of insulin since his arrest. The Assembly of the People’s Representatives voted on 23 March 2021 to create a parliamentary commission of inquiry to look into the circumstances surrounding his death.
In the event of the death of a prisoner, the prison governor immediately informs the prisoner’s family. A public health doctor delivers the death certificate and makes themselves available to the prisoner’s family.1
Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 221. ↩
Suicide prevention policies are implemented
Self-harm is defined as a disciplinary infraction according to the law of 14 May 2001. The DGPR has not established an official suicide prevention policy. They advise the “reinforcement of guidance sessions” and the broadcasting of “sensitivity training sessions over the internal public address system in order to improve the management of suicide risks.”1
Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 221. ↩
A study published by the Sanad Centre- OMCT in 2016 reported that a quarter of cases of torture or abuse take place in prisons. This number is the same for cases identified in police custody. Persons accused of terrorism are particularly vulnerable to torture or abuse. They can be held in police custody for up to 15 days. Lawyers can be barred from visiting them for up to a maximum of 48 hours.
Lawyers without Borders report that “prison overpopulation is the main cause of prison conditions that fail to meet international standards”1. In this way, overpopulation constitutes a form of abuse.
Lawyers without Borders, “Lutter contre la surpopulation carcérale en Tunisie”, September 2019, p 2. ↩
At Borj El Amri prison, a prisoner was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. A medical examination completed by a private clinic reported “the introduction of an object in a sensitive area of his body” which resulted in “lesions and bruising similar to haemorrhoid symptoms”. Prison authorities refute allegations of torture.
The prohibition of torture is enshrined in the Constitution and the legislation
Torture has been forbidden since 1999 (article 101A of the criminal code Code pénal). The 2015 Constitution formally prohibits “emotional and psychical torture”. The definition of torture in the Tunisian Criminal Code does not conform to that of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The OMCT highlight the fact that the definition of torture in the Tunisian Criminal Code excludes punitive action and exempts persons acting by order of a public official. Discrimination is narrowly defined; the only recognised form of discrimination is racial discrimination.1
The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) was
ratified in 1988
signed in 1987
Regulations prohibit government employees from inflicting any physical or emotional harm on prisoners1:
Intent to obtain a confession or other information and racial discrimination are effectively the only factors that may qualify an act as an instance of torture. As a result, victims customarily file complaints of ‘violence’.
Punishments for threats, intimidation, or other forms of emotional abuse are less severe than those for physical abuse.
Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 47. ↩
All allegations and suspicions of ill-treatment inflicted on prisoners are logged
Victims face numerous forms of threats and coercion intended to prevent them from filing complaints. These include transfer to a facility far away from their family, placement in solitary confinement, banned visits, refusal for transfer to a hospital in the event of a serious medical problem, and physical abuse including assault etc.
If so, the prison service must notify a judicial authority
The prison governor is required to notify a judicial authority. The judicial system is reported to be defective for a number of reasons: the refusal to accept complaints, a lack of cooperation on the part of the public prosecutor, the use of military tribunals for civil affairs, the obstruction of investigations by the judicial police, the considerable length of time taken by legal proceedings, the pressuring and coercion of victims and their families, and the difficulty of obtaining proof etc. Many barriers impede the rare enforcement of convictions for torture.1
Since 2014, in partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the DGPR has provided training to prison physicians on the identification of signs of torture.
Healthcare for prisoners is under the administration of the Ministry of Justice. Human rights organisations criticise the lack of independence of prison medical services. They identify this as a cause of the impunity that law enforcement officers benefit from when facing accusations of torture and abuse. According to these organisations, forensic examinations are not undertaken rigorously. Doctors have no training in documenting signs of abuse or torture. Police reports are sometimes substituted in the absence of medical reports.
Each prison facility keeps an updated record of violence between inmates
Acts of violence between prisoners are investigated
In the event of an incident, prison staff present a report to the prison management. Depending on the severity of the incident, the management decides whether to initiate disciplinary proceedings or refer the matter to the Inspection of Prison Services. This department may investigate the matter themselves or it may be followed up by a third party on behalf of the complainant.
Though the large dormitories help to limit the number of suicide attempts, this is not the case for self-harm, for which rates remain high.
Families wishing to file a complaint after the death of a loved one in custody or prison report that it is difficult to do so.
Prisoners may file complaints, provide descriptions, and file reports, complaints or appeals.
A complaint may require “the prison authorities to be interviewed to inform them that a prisoner’s rights have not been respected; for example, the right to receive a parental visit”.
A report “means an escalation to a supervisory body regarding a problem, mistreatment or, more generally, an unsatisfactory situation for the prisoner making the report, or for another prisoner. Examples include not being provided with a bed in the prison cell or not being permitted to participate in activities”.
In the event of administrative error and/or criminal offence, a complaint allows “the instigators to be identified, allows the claimant to request protection and compensation, and launches an investigation process. The term ‘appeal’ describes a formal challenge, in the presence of a judge, by a prisoner, in respect of a decision taken against him”.1 Complaints are made directly by prisoners or, in exceptional cases, by a third party, who may be a close friend/relative, a lawyer, or a human rights organisation. Complaint boxes are made available near the prison cells. They are collected twice per week by the prison director, and complaints must receive a response within ten days. The complainant must log his fingerprint to receive his response.2
Prisoners can complain to:
- The prison director, the DGPR or the Ministry of Justice
- The judicial authorities or the administrative tribunal
- The various independent external control bodies such as the INPT or INDH1
Most complaints are addressed to the General Director of the DGPR. Following this, they instruct the Inspection of Prison Services to conduct an enquiry.
Complaints which are addressed to the judicial authorities, in particular to the Ministry of Justice, are passed on to the General Inspectorate or to the Office of the Penitentiary System and for Rehabilitation. The latter may conduct site visits to evaluate the prison conditions.
Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Guide du prisonnier en Tunisie”, November 2019, p. 92. ↩
National Preventive Mechanisms and other external control bodies
The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was
ratified in 2011
An NPM has been established
yes, in 2013
Name of the NPM
The National Body for the Prevention of Torture (INPT)
The NPM has come into office
yes, in 2016
The NPM was appointed by
Structure of the NPM
collegiate body, 16 members
The NPM reports are made public
The legislation allows the NPM to carry out unannounced visits
The INPT is accessible to prisoners, prison staff, and external agents.
The NPM can monitor all prison facilities, units and premises
The authorities may, however, limit this jurisdiction “for urgent and pressing reasons linked to national defence, public security, natural disasters, or major disease”.
A regional body monitors the places of deprivation of liberty
The Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) has visited the country
yes, in April 2016
The SPT travels to Tunisia in order to support the establishment of the MNP. The SPT has highlighted, amongst other things, the inadequate financial and material resources made available for the INPT. The SPT also laments the lack of a dedicated budget line in the overall state budget. The SPT is concerned about the lack of independence of INPT members, who may be civil servants or judges in high office.1
Sub-committee for the prevention of torture, “Visit to Tunisia from 11 – 14 April 2016: observations and recommendations made to the National Prevention Mechanism, August 2017, pp. 6–7. ↩
Its report was made public
The report is available here.
Sentencing judges are authorised to monitor detention conditions and interview prisoners. In practice, however, they are not often available to do this. They are spread across a number of prisons and have to balance their time between various judicial activities.[^ judges] Since 2013, The Tunisian Human Rights League has undertaken visits to monitor compliance with prisoners’ rights. Several international organisations within the UN system support these monitoring visits, specifically to observe detention conditions and give advice on prison reforms. These organisations include the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
[^ judges]: OMCT Tunisia, “Report on the implementation of a complaints system in Tunisia’s prisons”, 2015, p. 11.
Sentence adjustments policies
The law provides for a sentence adjustment system
The Code of Criminal Procedure (Chapter IV) contains parole as a sentence adjustment.
On 10 June 2020, a government decree, validated by the council of ministers, was passed, proposing the wearing of an electronic bracelet as an alternative to prison, as a measure to combat prison overcrowding.
The sentence execution judge (juge d’exécution des peines, JEP) grants conditional release, following the judgment of the public prosecutor, for sentences of less than eight months (Article 342A of the Code of Criminal Procedure).
Decisions pertaining to sentences longer than eight months are passed to the Minister of Justice. Releases are granted by decree, following the recommendation of the parole board (Article 356 of the Code of Criminal Procedure).
The sentence can be adjusted as soon as it is pronounced (ab initio)
Sentence adjustments can be granted during the incarceration
Parole is granted to prisoners who, in the eyes of the prison administrators, demonstrate good conduct or for whom parole “would be good for the community” (Article 353 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). Prisoners without a previous criminal record can make a request once they have served half of their sentence. Those with a previous criminal record can make the request once they have served two-thirds of their sentence.
Parole can take several forms:
- House arrest, if the person has not been given an additional sentence
- Compulsory placement in a public or private institution
- Joint application of the two measures listed above
In practice, this system is seldom used due to the long judicial delays and the absence of an open custody monitoring environment. People are often released unaccompanied.
Prisoners can contest a negative decision of sentence adjustment
Only the Public Prosecutor can challenge the decisions taken by the enforcement judge on behalf of victims (Article 342A of the Code of Criminal Procedure).
There is a four-day deadline. The appeal suspends the implementation of the decision. The Indictments Division must rule within eight days. The prisoner is not given a hearing. The decision of the Indictments Division cannot be challenged.[^manuel1]
[^manuel 1]: Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 308.
Specific categories of prisoners are ineligible for sentence adjustment
The law provides for a temporary release system
The sentencing judge grants permission to leave prisons on a temporary basis (Article 342-3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). Such permissions are granted to prisoners to allow them to visit a seriously ill family member or friend, or to attend the funeral of one of the following people:
- “spouse, older family members, or younger family members’
- brothers and sisters
- paternal or maternal uncles or first-degree relatives
- legal guardian“
91 such permissions were granted in 2018.1
Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 304. ↩
The law provides for a sentence adjustment for medical reasons
The Law of 14 May 2001 does not permit an early release on medical grounds. The Code of Criminal Procedure authorises a relaxation of the restrictions around sentence adjustment (Articles 353 and 354) in cases of “grave or incurable illness” (Article 355).
A report, written by the prison doctor, is placed before a committee of prison doctors. This committee contains a medical examiner, and is chaired by the Deputy Director for Health.1
Ministry of Justice, INPT, CoE, “Manuel du droit pénitentiaire tunisien”, November 2019, p. 307. ↩
A pardon can reduce the length of the sentence, or replace it with a less serious penalty (for example, capital punishment may be commuted to life imprisonment).
Presidential pardons are issued regularly, especially during national holidays. These pardons may benefit thousands of prisoners. The DGPR provides a list of eligible prisoners to the Ministry of Justice. The Pardons Commission examines each case and presents the final list to the President of the Republic.
As part of the pardons procedure, the personal files of eligible prisoners are examined.