Tunisia parliament approves executions for 'terror crimes'

Rights groups hoped that parliament would leave death penalty out of the bill

Tunisia's parliament approved Thursday imposition of the death penalty for "terrorist" crimes, despite opposition from rights groups and a de facto quarter-century moratorium on executions.
MPs were voting during the second of three days of debate on a bill aimed at beefing up powers to confront a jihadist threat following deadly attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.
President Beji Caid Essebsi imposed a state of emergency after a student went on a shooting rampage at a beach resort last month, killing 38 foreign tourists, most of them Britons. That incident came on the heels of one in March in which two gunmen attacked Tunisia's national museum, killing 21 foreigners and a policeman.
MPs voted heavily in favour of three articles imposing the death penalty. Article 26 applies to anyone who "knowingly murders someone enjoying international protection," a reference to such people as diplomats and international civil servants. The following article applies to cases in which people die in hostage-taking or kidnapping incidents, while Article 28 refers to people who commit rape during the course of a terrorism-related crime.
The bill would replace the 2003 terrorism law, passed under the dictatorship of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, ousted four years ago, which was widely criticised as being a tool to crush dissent. The death penalty already exists under Tunisian law, for such crimes as murder and rape, but no one has been hanged since 1991. Rights groups had hoped that parliament would leave it out of the current bill.
So far, MPs have approved 33 of the bill's 139 articles. Among other things, the bill would make it easier for investigators to use phone-tapping against suspects and would make public expressions of support for terrorism a jailable offence. But advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned the latest bill. They have described it as draconian, saying its definition of terrorist crimes is too vague and that it fails to adequately safeguard the rights of defendants and could undermine freedoms.