Tunisia: Exercise restraint and respect human rights as political tensions intensify

French | Arabic

Tunisian authorities must refrain from the use of excessive force amid political tensions. 
 
On 25 July people took to the streets in several cities in Tunisia expressing concerns over the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the roll out of vaccinations and the dire economic situation that Tunisians are facing.

CIVICUS, a global alliance for civil society, is concerned about the violent attacks against protesters in Tunisia and calls on Tunisian authorities to exercise restraint amidst political tensions and to respect human rights.  

Following a day of anti-government protests, President Kais Saied proceeded to invoke emergency powers, most of which are against Tunisia’s constitution suspending Parliament for 30 days and dismissing Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi. The ministers of Justice and Defence were also dismissed. A month-long curfew was imposed together with additional restrictions which prevent people from moving between cities outside of the curfew except for urgent health reasons. The authorities have also imposed restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly prohibiting gatherings of more than three people in public places.

On 26 July, 20 heavily armed police officers  raided the offices of international media outlet, Al-Jazeera, confiscated equipment and expelled staff from its premises. This raises serious concerns for press freedoms in the country.

“President Saied should not use the current crisis and emergency powers to stifle democracy including, freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly in Tunisia. The consistent use of violence against peaceful protesters is  a worrying trend and the use of emergency measures to limit fundamental rights, under the guise of the COVID19 pandemic are an affront to democracy and a serious threat to gains made during pro-democracy protests ten years ago,” said Aarti Narsee, civic space researcher. 

The imposition of current emergency measures in response to anti-government protests is reminiscent of an ongoing trend where demonstrations highlighting concerns on social and economic issues affecting Tunisians are violently repressed by the authorities. In January 2021,  security forces used excessive force, which included tear gas, water cannon and physical violence, against protesters, with one protester being killed as a result and thousands were arrested, including minors. Authorities also targeted human rights defenders and those who spoke out about the dire economic situation in Tunisia.

Background:
Civic space restrictions continue in Tunisia ten years after protests forced a political transition and human rights defenders, journalists and activists who raise concerns over human rights violations are targeted by the authorities. Freedom of assembly has been significantly curtailed under Covid-19-related emergency measures which have banned gatherings at different times.  In October 2020 security forces violently repressed peaceful protesters who demonstrated against legislation that would grant immunity to security personnel in front of Parliament in Tunis. Most of the protests are driven by the impact of a deteriorating economy, increases in the prices of basic communities and high levels of impunity enjoyed by security forces. After Sunday’s protests the President has assumed executive authority with the help of a new Prime Minister which he is going to select. In principle, the Prime Minister should be elected by Parliament, which is controlled by the Ennahda party, with which the President has a long standing feud.


Civic space in Tunisia is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

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