The Tunisian authorities must launch an independent and impartial investigation into the death of a 13-year-old boy shot during protests in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, Amnesty International said today.
Thabet al-Hajlaoui was reportedly killed on Sunday after security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters in front of an army compound in the town famous for sparking mass demonstrations that spread across the region.
Some protesters lit rubber tyres and threw rocks during the rally calling for former government officials to be put on trial.
"The security forces must answer for this tragic death. The firing of live ammunition against Sunday's protesters in Sidi Bouzid is a stark reminder of the methods used against protesters under Ben Ali" said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
"Although the Tunisian authorities have a responsibility to maintain public order the use of firearms has resulted in the death of a young bystander and raises fears that the security forces are slipping off the leash. A thorough and impartial investigation must be launched and those responsible brought to justice."
Thabet al-Hajlaoui's family told Amnesty International he had heard the noise of the demonstrations and had gone out to watch them. He hid behind a wall, occasionally coming out from his hiding place to take a look.
An eyewitness told Amnesty International that while he was out in the open Thabet al-Hajlaoui was hit by a bullet that ricocheted from his arm into his chest. He was dead by the time he reached hospital.
Demonstrators had tried to gather in Kasbah Square in Tunis on Friday 15 July demanding the reform of the judiciary, the resignation of the ministers of the interior and of justice and that those involved in the killings during the December and January protests be brought to justice.
Many protesters, journalists and human rights activists were prevented from reaching the sit-in by security officers who chased them either on motorcycles or on foot. Scores of people were said to have sustained head and other injuries.
Ahmed Ben Nacib, a 20-year-old human rights activist from Tunisian human rights organization Liberty and Equity, was chased by three motorcycles and then beaten by truncheons, kicked and slapped. He was then taken to a police station in Tunis.
When he told the police that he was covering the sit-in as part of his work for the organization, Ahmed Ben Nacib was again assaulted. He was released later the same day.
According to other reports tear gas was used against protesters in the streets as well as in the Kasbah Mosque, where apparently dozens had sought refuge. At around 7pm, the security forces raided the mosque and assaulted and arrested several people.
At least 47 protesters were reportedly arrested and taken to Bouchoucha Prison. Several detainees are said to have been injured during their arrest as the Kasbah sit-in was forcibly dispersed by Tunisian security forces using truncheons.
On 16 July, the Ministry of Interior stated that protesters had thrown stones and metallic objects at the security forces who tried to disperse them, and consequently 18 security officers were injured. He added that the security forces acted within the law.
"The statements made by the Tunisian authorities do not provide adequate answers," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
"Tunisians must enjoy the right to protest and the fact that some demonstrators might have thrown stones is no excuse to use excessive force to disperse them.
"The statements also show that the Tunisian authorities have not learned anything from the death of over 300 protesters in the December/January uprising. Instead of fully investigating the events that led to those deaths, they are now falling back on the use of excessive force to police demonstrations."