IN SHORT

Tunisia abuses rights of Slovak national

A SLOVAK national, Norbert Ficza, has been serving time in a Tunisian jail since November 2003 for the alleged theft of two rental cars and the use of a fake credit card.

Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesperson Juraj Tomaga told the SITA news agency that the Tunisian authorities have been violating Ficza's basic human rights guaranteed by the Vienna Convention by wilfully denying the Slovak citizen proper access to a fair trial.

Slovak authorities have not yet been officially informed of Ficza's detention, although the detainee specifically requested it. Tunisian authorities are forbidding any personal or written contact with the prisoner.

Tomaga said that during the trial, which was held exclusively in Arabic, Ficza was not provided with an interpreter to mount a defence.

Slovak diplomats seek a fair trial for this Slovak man, one that is attended by observers from partner embassies of other EU-member states. Although Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Kukan already contacted his Tunisian counterpart about the case, Tunisian authorities have not responded in any way.

"If the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations is further violated, we will take the case to an international court," said Tomaga.

The Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry decided to publish details of the case because about 70,000 Slovak tourists visit Tunisia every year. Tomaga said it was necessary to warn Slovaks about the potential risks.

Norbert Ficza, 26, is married and has a four-year-old daughter. In November 2003, Tunisian authorities handed him a 14-year prison sentence. According to a lawyer, during appeal proceedings, his sentence was halved to seven years. Ficza says he was forced to sign a verdict giving him 10 years.

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