The recent expulsion of Irish trade unionist and Fórsa member Esther Lynch, the head of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), has revealed the extent of Tunisia’s current crackdown on any form of political dissent.
Esther visited the country two weeks ago to call on Tunisia's government to release Anis Kaabi, an official within the Tunisian General Labour Union's (UGTT).
Addressing the union’s rally in the port city of Sfax, Esther said: "I am here in Tunisia to say to President Saied: The world sees what you're doing. Stop your attacks on trade unions now."
In response, Kais Saied's accused Esther of "blatantly interfering in Tunisian affairs," and gave her 24 hours to leave the country. It’s reported that she was then harassed and prevented from leaving her hotel. Esther eventually made a safe return to Brussels on Sunday 19th February.
Sami Tahri, UGTT deputy secretary general, has said Esther’s expulsion “reflects the shrinking space for democracy in Tunisia." The union said the expulsion was "shocking" and opened up a confrontation with labour unions around the world.
He added: "Tunisia's interests and its foreign relations will be certainly affected, as countries require a minimum level of democracy in their relations."
Esther’s expulsion was strongly condemned by Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs minister Micheál Martin: “Ireland unreservedly supports the rights of trade unions to conduct their important work free from harassment, intimidation and fear.
“Freedom of expression and association are fundamental human rights guaranteed to all and are an essential foundation of an open, democratic and inclusive society," he said.
The Tunisian government’s crackdown has seen at least a dozen politicians, activists, a journalist, two judges and UGTT official Anis Kaabi detained and labelled as traitors or criminals by Saied in recent weeks.
Amnesty International has called on the Tunisian government to cease the prosecution of civilians before military courts, to stop attacks on the right to a fair trial, and to halt legislation that threatens freedom of expression.
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