Tunisia: Call for investigation into crackdown on protesters

Amnesty International has condemned an ongoing crackdown by the Tunisian authorities of protests sparked by the attempted suicide of a young fruit seller who later died of his injuries. The organisation is calling for an investigation into the cause of deaths and injuries at the protests.

At least two protesters have been killed during demonstrations following the attempted suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed graduate who set himself on fire in front of a government building in the town of Sidi Bouzid on 17 December after police confiscated his fruit cart for selling without a permit. He died from his injuries in hospital on 4 January.

Bouazizi’s attempted suicide sparked protests over rising prices, unemployment and corruption in Tunisia that have sometimes turned violent as they continue to spread.

Amnesty International said:

“The Tunisian authorities must immediately launch a thorough and impartial investigation into the deaths and injuries during the protests and hold to account anyone found responsible for excessive use of force.

“The Tunisian authorities have a responsibility to maintain public order but this should be no excuse to target people simply peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

“Tunisians must be allowed to express their grievances and freely protest. The authorities made empty promises of work opportunities which were followed by a crackdown on protestors.”

Violent incidents have included the death of Mohamed Ammar, 18, who was killed by police fire on 24 December 2010, following clashes between demonstrators and members of the security forces in Menzel Bouzayane, in Sidi Bouzid; and the death of Chawki Hidari, 44, who died in hospital as a result of bullet injuries on 1 January. Ten other demonstrators were also injured during confrontations. On 22 December, Neji Flehi, 24, also committed suicide by electrocution after reportedly shouting "No unemployment, no misery" during a demonstration in Sidi Bouzid.

Meanwhile in recent days lawyers have been singled out for beatings and arrest following an attempted nationwide sit-in by lawyers on 31 December in solidarity with the Sidi Bouzid protests. In response, thousands of Tunisian lawyers carried out a strike this week in protest against their treatment.

The Tunisian authorities have said that their forces acted in self defence but are yet to confirm any investigations into the deaths and injuries of protesters.

Waves of arrests have taken place throughout the country as freedoms of expression and assembly are curtailed and undermined. Exact figures of people still detained have not been released by the authorities who have a track record of holding people incommunicado. One activist, Ammar Amroussia, continues to be detained pending investigation. He was arrested on 29 December 2010 for participating in a sit-in in Gafsa.

The Tunisian authorities have also sought to prevent the spread of protests in Tunisia and the spreading of information on the protests, by enforcing a media blackout and by blocking websites and closing the email accounts of internet activists, in particular those using Facebook.

Under international law enforcement standards police may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty. In particular, they must not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, and only when less extreme means are insufficient. This applies in all circumstances, including in policing demonstrations which have turned violent.

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