Tunisia’s arrest of a United Nations (UN) expert investigating arms smuggling into war-torn Libya has sparked a diplomatic standoff between the North African country and the international organisation.
Moncef Kartas, a member of a UN panel of experts, was arrested on 26 March upon his arrival in the capital Tunis on suspicion of spying for “unnamed foreign parties” – charges that could carry the death sentence. He has been held in jail ever since.
The UN has repeatedly stressed that Kartas was on an official mission and that he enjoys diplomatic immunity. It called on the Tunisian authorities to reveal the reasons behind his detention.
Kartas could be stripped of his immunity by the UN secretary general, but the organisation said Tunisia had not made such a request.
In mid-April, the UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said that he was concerned that the Tunisian government did not respond to the UN calls.
Kartas, a Tunisian-German dual national, was appointed in 2016 to a UN panel of experts tasked with investigating possible arms shipments into Libya in violation of an embargo. The Tunisian prosecution said last month it had issued an arrest warrant over an enquiry into “the acquisition of security information related to the fight against terrorism and the dissemination of this information in violation of the law.”
On Tuesday, international scholars and academics, including Kartas’ colleagues, demanded his “immediate release,” claiming that his detention was “illegitimate.” Kartas’ lawyers also filed an official request for his release.
One of his lawyers, named Sarah Zaafrani, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that a key pillar of the charges against Kartas was that he had “an RTL-SDR device that gives access to public data on flights of civil and commercial aircraft.” She explained that the device was “only for the purpose of monitoring air traffic to Libya, in order to identify flights that may be linked to violations of the arms embargo.”
Tunisia bans the use of RTL-SDR radio scanners without special permission.