Tunisia's state of emergency must respect rights: HRW

Tunis (AFP) - The Tunisian state of emergency imposed after the jihadist attack that killed 38 tourists last month must not suppress freedoms gained since the 2011 revolution, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

"Imposing a state of emergency does not give the Tunisian government the right to gut basic rights and freedoms," New York-based HRW said.

Eight days after the June 26 gun attack at the Mediterranean resort of Port El Kantaoui, President Beji Caid Essebsi on Saturday decreed a state of emergency for 30 days.

The rampage by a Tunisian student killed 30 Britons, three Irish nationals, two Germans, one Belgian, one Portuguese and a Russian, and was claimed by the Islamic State group.

Essebsi said the exceptional measure was being introduced because the attack had left Tunisia facing a "special type of war".

HRW deputy chief for the Middle East and North Africa Eric Goldstein said in the statement that Tunisia's security challenges may call for a strong response, but not for sacrificing the rights that Tunisians fought hard to guarantee in their post-revolution constitution."

Kamel Jendoubi, the minister who heads a crisis group set up after the attack, told a news conference Tuesday: "When security is targeted and we face armed criminals... the first right is to ensure security and guarantee the right to life".

He said the state of emergency "only raises the level of vigilance in the country... it has been put into practice but has never threatened freedom in Tunisia".

The measure grants the security forces exceptional powers.

Among other things, it allows the authorities to bar strike action and public meetings deemed dangerous to public order and to increase controls on the media.

Prime Minister Habib Essid said it "allows us to better control (the situation) and to support the national army on the ground in order to have more chances to eradicate terrorism".

"The objective of the state of emergency is to give all means to protect the institutions and achievements of Tunisia", rather than to "restrict freedoms," Essid told state television.

His remarks came after nine non-governmental organisations -- including HRW, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders -- wrote to parliament Tuesday warning of "flaws" in a draft "counter-terrorism" bill submitted in March.

The letter said the draft "contains provisions that affect public and individual rights and freedoms".

The nine said the bill would allow police to hold suspects incommunicado for up to 15 days with a prosecutor's consent and without bringing the person before a judge.

"During that time suspects would have no access to a lawyer or contact with their family, increasing the risk of mistreatment or torture."

The current state of emergency is not the first to be imposed in Tunisia since the revolution that sparked the Arab Spring.

There was also one in force from January 14, 2011 -- hours after the flight of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali -- until March last year.