Tunisia frees UN expert but ‘battle has only just begun’

Tunisian authorities released Moncef Kartas, a top UN expert on illegal arms transfers to Libya, from prison yesterday. Kartas, a dual Tunisian German national, had been held on espionage charges for nearly two months.

But Tunisia has not dropped charges against Kartas, according to Sofiene Sliti, a spokesman for the chief prosecutor’s office. He will not be permitted to leave the country as the investigation continues into “the unofficial collection of information related to terrorism, which constitutes a dangerous crime,” Sliti said.

Kartas has not issued a statement since being freed from Tunis’ Mornaguia prison, where he had been kept since April 11.

Kartas’ lawyer, Sarah Zaafrani, said her client was relieved to have been released from prison, but that the “battle has only just begun.” Zaafrani told Al-Monitor that “Kartas is completely innocent. The case against him needs to be dropped immediately.” Diplomatic pressure from the UN and Germany, she said, played a big part in the authorities’ decision to free him. Such pressure “needs to be applied even more vigorously,” she said.

The UN and the German government insist on Kartas’ innocence, even as prosecutors shared evidence they say proves he was engaged in illicit activities targeting Tunisia’s national security. The UN said that Kartas’ UN travel document, which he presented upon entering the country, grants him immunity from prosecution under a 1946 UN convention.

The case remains shrouded in secrecy. The only purported evidence against him, as cited in press reports, is a tracking gadget that was found on Kartas. Available online for around $20, the device is used to track airplanes and to monitor which planes have their flight radars deactivated. Planes carrying illegal cargo to Libya deactivate their radars.