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Tunisia: Authorities urged to release or charge detainees

The Tunisian authorities must either release or promptly charge two men arrested after one of them gave media interviews about the ongoing protests, Amnesty International said today.

Hamma Hammami, spokesperson for the banned Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party (Parti Communiste des Ouvriers Tunisiens, PCOT) was arrested at his home in Tunis on 12 January. Around 20 members of the Presidential Security unit are reported to have detained him together with his colleague, Mohamed Mzem, a lawyer, and Mounia Obaid, a friend who was later released.

Hamma Hammami’s family believe he was arrested for speaking to journalists about the protests in the country.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:

“The Tunisian authorities must release Hamma Hammami and Mohamed Mzem unless they are to be promptly charged with recognisable criminal offences, and guaranteed fair trials.

“The authorities must immediately disclose the whereabouts of Hamma Hammami and Mohamed Mzem and allow them access to their families and lawyers of their choice.

“Currently, we do not know where these two men are being held, heightening concern that they could be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.”

Hamma Hammami was physically assaulted by men believed to be plain-clothes police officers in September 2009 when he flew into Tunis airport after a trip to France in which he criticized the Tunisian government in interviews with Al Jazeera, Mubasher and France 24. He went into hiding in October 2009 after he was summoned by the criminal police, fearing he would be arbitrarily arrested, and only recently returned to public life. His wife and Children's rights have also been harassed by security officers.

Tunisia has seen rising protests in recent weeks, sparked by the suicide of a 26-year-old unemployed graduate on 17 December 2010. Protesters have been demanding jobs and better living conditions and for an end to corruption, but the government’s response has been heavy-handed, with police accused of opening fire on and killing and injuring scores of demonstrators. Scores of others have been arrested, including journalists and bloggers.

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