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Deportation of Swiss activist causes outcry

Amnesty International is concerned about human rights activists in Tunisia. Amnesty International

The Swiss foreign ministry has condemned the deportation of a Swiss human rights activist by Tunisia.

This content was published on May 22, 2006 - 22:06

Yves Steiner, an official from Amnesty International's Swiss branch, was arrested on Sunday while attending a meeting in the capital, Tunis.

A foreign ministry spokeswoman on Monday criticised the police action against Steiner as out of proportion.

She told swissinfo that the Tunisian chargé d'affaires in Bern had been summoned to explain the incident.

In a response on Tuesday, a Tunisian foreign ministry spokesman said Steiner had been expelled "for outrageous and indecent behaviour, violation of the laws of the country and an attack on its sovereignty".

The spokesman said Tunisia regretted Switzerland's "undiplomatic" reaction, and added that his country had "nothing to learn" from Switzerland in the area of human rights.

Steiner was attending a meeting of the Tunisia chapter of Amnesty when he was detained and told to leave the country. He was put on a flight to Paris on Sunday evening.

The foreign ministry confirmed that police in Tunis had prevented Swiss ambassador Peter von Graffenried from intervening.

Steiner said that police in Tunis had given no reason for his arrest.

"It appears I'm considered a threat to public order, but I don't quite know what makes me such a dangerous person," Steiner told swissinfo after his return to Switzerland on Monday.

Steiner took part in last year's International Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and, in his Amnesty capacity, has repeatedly accused the Tunis government of stifling the press, harassing rights activists and beating opponents.

The government of President Ben Ali dismisses such allegations. It insists that they are part of a smear campaign by its opponents and their allies abroad.

Crackdown

Steiner said he knew that he was not popular with the authorities but expected to be left alone after they let him enter the country on Friday.

"I think my detention is an attempt to put an end to my activities denouncing human rights violations in Tunisia and a further sign that the government is cracking down on its critics," he added.

Steiner said he felt intimidated and humiliated by police who arrested him without an official warrant.

Up to 50 police reinforcements were brought in after human rights activists initially prevented Steiner's arrest, said Amnesty spokeswoman Manon Schick.

Amnesty said it was considering taking steps against the Tunisian authorities. However it is concerned that legal action might jeopardise the work of human rights campaigners in the country.

swissinfo

In brief

Bilateral relations between Switzerland and Tunisia became strained over the treatment of the Swiss delegation at last year's World Summit on the Information Society.

The Tunisian government criticised a meeting between the Swiss foreign minister and four Tunisian human rights activists last year in the Swiss capital, Bern.

Amnesty International has repeatedly accused Tunis of showing little tolerance of dissent and has pointed to alleged human rights violations.

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