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Amnesty accuses Tunisia security forces of abuses in war with militants

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian security forces are using methods in their war against Islamist militants that are associated with overthrown leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, including torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, Amnesty International said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO:Soldiers patrol after Monday's attack by Islamic State militants on army and police barracks in the town of Ben Guerdan, Tunisia, near the Libyan border March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi /File Photo

The human right group said in a report that such practices are threatening the road to democratic reform in a country that was the birthplace of the Arab uprisings against autocracy.

Tunisia says it recognizes that some of what Amnesty has charged exists, but says it only individual cases and that there is no systematic abuse or policy of torture by state forces.

It has set up a torture commission to stamp out abuses.

Tunisia has been praised as an example of peaceful democratic transition since overthrowing Ben Ali in 2011, with a compromise between secular and Islamist leaders, two free elections and a new constitution.

But it has struggled to cope with a rising tide of Islamist militants and the prosecution of Islamist sleeper cells, especially after four deadly attacks in 2015-2016, including on foreign tourists, the country’s economic lifeblood.

Since November 2015 Tunisia has been under the state of emergency that allows authorities to move with more freedom in the face of terrorism suspects.

With Tunisian authorities fearing new attacks, security forces arrested about 2,000 suspects since 2015 in anti-terrorism sweeps, put dozens under house arrest and prevented more than 5,000 from traveling abroad to join militant groups such Islamic State in Libya and Syria.

Amnesty’s report detailed cases of torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, house searches without warrants, arbitrarily assigned residence orders and travel restrictions.

But Tunisian Human Rights Minister Mehdi Ben Gharbia told Reuters:

“All violations mentioned in the report Amnesty ... are individual violations (and) are being investigated. We cannot accept these kind of violations in the new Tunisia.

“In Tunisia we will win our battle against terrorism, but also will win battle of human right values and we will continue to reform and change in mentalities.” he added.

A Truth and Dignity Commission intended to help cement Tunisia’s young democracy has begun investigating police abuses and cases of torture and arbitrary arrests during decades of authoritarian rule before the 2011 revolt.

Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Patrick Markey/Jeremy Gaunt