Tunisia: Many Face Prison Over Debts

At least several hundred people are in prison in Tunisia solely for writing checks they were later unable to pay, Human Rights Watch said in a report published. The practice amounts to imprisonment for debt, which violates international human rights law, and which destroys families and businesses.

In the 41-page report, “‘No Way Out’: Debt Imprisonment in Tunisia,” Human Rights Watch documents the consequences of Tunisia’s archaic legislation on checks with insufficient funds.

The law, in addition to sending insolvent people to prison, or to live in hiding or exile, fuels a cycle of indebtedness and reduces entire households to lives of hardship.

In the context of Tunisia’s current economic crisis, the authorities should urgently replace the legal provisions that allow for debt imprisonment with legislation that distinguishes between willful refusal and genuine inability to pay.

Those imprisoned often face stigma, and the lack of income while they are in prison or trying to escape prosecution can affect the enjoyment of their human rights, including access to basic services such as health care, housing, or education.