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Tunisia: Authorities must refrain from using unnecessary and excessive force against protesters

Tunisian security forces must immediately refrain from using unnecessary and excessive force to disperse protesters who have taken to the streets in the capital and several governorates, against marginalization, police violence, poverty and lack of job opportunities, Amnesty International said today.

Since Friday 15 January, young protesters in popular neighborhoods have broken curfew and, in some instances, protests have escalated and acts of violence, looting and vandalism have occurred. The Ministry of Interior today confirmed the arrest of 630 people, the majority of whom are minors – aged between 14 and 15 years old.

“Even when acts of vandalism and looting occur, law enforcement officers must only use force where absolutely necessary and proportionate. Nothing gives security forces permission to deploy unnecessary and excessive force including when they are responding to acts of sporadic violence.” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

”Tunisian authorities must ensure that they immediately release Hamza Nassri Jeridi and anyone who was arrested solely for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.”

Even when acts of vandalism and looting occur, law enforcement officers must only use force where absolutely necessary and proportionate. Nothing gives security forces permission to deploy unnecessary and excessive force including when they are responding to acts of sporadic violence.

Amna Guellali

On 18 January, Police dispersed a  peaceful demonstration in solidarity with the protesters and against police violence in downtown Tunis. According to two protesters that Amnesty International interviewed, police officers attacked the peaceful protesters with batons and tear gas to disperse their gathering and arrested human rights activist Hamza Nassri Jeridi, who was protesting peacefully and took him to police headquarters in Tunis for interrogation.

Alarming footages were circulated online showing police officers beating and dragging individuals that they have apprehended. Eyewitnesses shared testimonies purporting to show the ill treatment of people in custody at police stations and the use of unlawful force.

“Tunisian security forces must uphold the rights of all people in their custody regardless of the reason for their arrest and in all circumstances. Every person in custody has the right not to be ill-treated or tortured, the right to contact their family and a lawyer and the right to medical assistance according to both Tunisian law and International Human Rights law. While the police have the right to arrest individuals for specific acts of violence, they must ensure they do so in line with human rights standards and to respect due process.” said Amna Guellali

The protests started in Siliana, 130 km from Tunis, and spread to other governorates on Friday after a video posted on social media showed a police officer violently reprimanding a shepherd whose sheep entered the courtyard of a local government building.

Authorities imposed a four day national lockdown from 14 to 17 January with a 4pm curfew in response to a rise in COVID-19 infections.

Amnesty International calls on law enforcement agencies including the prosecution service to immediately avoid detaining protesters where possible by releasing all those arbitrarily arrested and provisionally releasing those likely to face prosecution in cases where there is clear evidence of a recognizable offense. The authorities should take into consideration the high risk of COVID-19 in detention centers where sanitary conditions are poor and physical distancing is virtually impossible to uphold.