Several Western countries urged Tunisia to guarantee freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary, at a UN review Tuesday of the country’s rights situation. Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden addressed the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva via video-link, where she said that “freedom of expression and the right of peaceful assembly are bedrocks” of her country. “This is an irrevocable principle of our system,” she said. “We have not refused any request to organise a demonstration. Isolated cases have been detected of irregularities — and the same can be said of allegations of torture. “Torture is not a state policy, but torture may occur in isolated cases.” She nevertheless stressed that “freedom of expression cannot be used as an incitement to hatred or the spreading of fake news, for example on the internet.” Several countries highlighted Tunisia’s progress in implementing the recommendations made at the last review of the north African country’s human rights situation in 2017 — notably in combating racial discrimination and violence against women. However, Australia, among other countries, said it was “concerned by the deterioration of the human rights situation” since parliament was suspended in July 2021, when President Kais Saied staged a dramatic power grab. Saied later pushed through a constitution enshrining his one-man rule, in what critics have called a return to autocracy in the only democracy to have emerged from the Arab Spring. Non-governmental organisations and the opposition have accused the security services of resorting to methods reminiscent of those of the police state under the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Many Western nations, including the United States, Austria, Switzerland and Spain, called on Tunisia to uphold freedom of expression. Belgium recommended replacing the 1969 law on demonstrations and ensuring that all allegations of excessive use of force by state agents during demonstrations are investigated and prosecuted.