New York City – Suspended prison sentences have been imposed on 20 people convicted of taking part in the deadly attack by hundreds of religious extremists on the U.S. Embassy last September, over lenient punishments that drew concern and criticism from Human Rights First and the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. The September attack caused extensive damage to the U.S. Embassy and a nearby American school was destroyed. Four people were killed in the course of the violent protests.
“Tunisia’s transition to democracy is threatened by incidents of political violence,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks, who was in Tunis last month. “The Tunisian government must send a clear message that political violence in the name of religion will not be tolerated.”
Hicks adds that the largest party in the governing coalition, the En-Nahda (Renaissance) Party characterizes itself as a moderate Islamist movement, but its critics in Tunisia charge that it shares an agenda with Islamic extremists, such as those who carried out the attack on the embassy and other violent assaults in recent months. The Tunisian court’s decision to impose such lenient sentences for the serious and damaging attack on the U.S. Embassy creates further doubt that the government is willing to uphold the rule of law in the face of extremist violence.
“In order to build and maintain the broad public confidence necessary for Tunisia’s transition to succeed, those who engage in political violence must be prosecuted and punished in a manner that corresponds to the severity of the crime,” concluded Hicks. “The attack on the embassy sowed distrust and insecurity within Tunisian society and inflicted a damaging setback on the transition. Those who carried out this crime must be held accountable.”