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Crime and Excessive Punishment in Tunisia

Despite some reforms following the 2010-2011 revolution, Tunisia’s criminal justice system remains inefficient and overly repressive. Harsh sentences for minor crimes have failed to act as a deterrent, and often have strikingly negative social consequences.

TUNIS – Since the 2010-2011 Tunisian revolution, reformers have increasingly focused on the need to “humanize” the country’s criminal justice system and make it more consistent with the new Constitution. As a result of pressure from civil society, successive governments have started to adopt important reforms in recent years, including a 2016 law protecting suspects’ elementary rights during custody. Moreover, policymakers are currently reviewing the country’s criminal law and criminal procedure codes.

Yet, the Tunisian justice system is still overly repressive – both in terms of the provisions of criminal laws (whether embedded in the criminal code or scattered across specific statutes), and the way they are implemented. Legislators should therefore seek to permit more flexibility and give courts greater discretion over sentencing, including by allowing them to choose alternatives to prison terms.

Today, Tunisia’s criminal legislation still frequently prescribes mandatory minimum sentences, excludes mitigating circumstances, and limits judges’ discretionary powers. This has had several strikingly negative consequences, including judicial overload and severe social problems.

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