UN concerned about excessive use of force against protesters in Tunisia and the restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly
This is also available in: العربية (Arabic) متوفر ايضا باللغة
Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice
Geneva, 28 June 2021
United Nations human rights experts have indicated that the excessive use of force and unlawful restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Tunisia are matters of concern.
Demonstrations due to the police assault on a shepherd:
According to a UN memorandum sent to the Tunisian government on April 28, 2021, which has not yet been responded to, protests erupted on January 14, 2021, after a video was posted on Facebook showing a police officer insulting a shepherd in the northwestern Siliana governorate.
The experts added that the demonstrations began in the central area of Kasserine, then expanded in Sidi Bouzid, and spread within a few days to Bizerte, Tebourba and Sousse, as well as in marginalized neighborhoods in Tunis, and the police, some of whom were wearing riot gear with armored vehicles, allegedly used excessive tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters who gathered on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the Tunisian capital. It also sprayed pepper spray on the face of a photojournalist who was covering the protests on January 19.
Deaths and arbitrary arrests, including minors:
In their memo, the experts stated that on January 25, Haikal Al-Rashidi, a 21-year-old student, died of head injuries, after police fired a tear gas canister that hit him during a demonstration in Kasserine on January 18. At least 1,400 people, including minors, were reportedly arrested during the protests without immediately informing their families, and interrogated them without the presence of a guardian, family member, or lawyer.
The experts pointed out that detainees were reportedly subjected to harassment, intimidation and ill-treatment within police stations, and the police forced them to sign pre-written police statements, often in similar terms, without allowing them access to their content detailing the reasons for their arrest and the charges against them.
UN concern about excessive use of force:
The experts expressed their concern about allegations of excessive use of force and indiscriminate use of tear gas in closed areas by law enforcement officials during peaceful protests, these are allegations that the experts saw as affecting the right to exercise the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
The experts noted in their memorandum that acts of violence perpetrated by isolated individuals do not absolve the state of its positive obligation to protect peaceful demonstrators, and that if such allegations are proven, they will violate many international human rights rules and standards.
UN demands from the Tunisian government:
The experts called on the Tunisian government to state whether an investigation into Rachidi’s death and its results had been launched, and if an investigation had not been opened, to state the reasons behind this, and how it would be consistent with Tunisia’s international human rights obligations.
The experts also asked Tunisia to provide them with the legal basis for the arrest and detention of the persons concerned, their compatibility with international human rights law and procedural guarantees so that their right to a fair trial is respected.
The experts also called on the Tunisian government to provide details of the measures it has taken to ensure the protection of demonstrators and journalists, during the demonstrations.