Time for Security Reform in Tunisia

8 August 2013

By Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International

“The police surrounded me and started to beat me with their hands, their feet, their sticks – everything. They continued to beat me all the way to Bouchoucha.”

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These are the words of Oussama Bouajlia, a young Tunisian activist describing his arrest by security forces at a protest last month, on the same day the opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi was slain. Many Tunisians had hoped that after the toppling of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in a wave of mass protests in 2011, they would never have to hear such stories again.Reform of the security sector remains a crucial challenge as Tunisia struggles to confront a burgeoning political crisis coupled with security threats. The country was still reeling from its second political assassination in recent months when armed fighters killed and mutilated eight soldiers on Mount Chaambi near the border with Algeria on July 29. Meanwhile, demonstrators who have taken to the streets calling for the dissolution of the government and National Constituent Assembly (NCA), the body responsible for drafting the constitution, have faced repressive tactics are reminiscent of the police abuses which had been a trademark of Ben Ali’s rule.

The misconduct of security forces against demonstrators speaks louder than the Ministry of Interior’s statements to protect the right to peaceful protest. Mohamed Belmufti, an activist with the Popular Front political party coalition, was killed when a tear gas canister struck his face during a demonstration in Gafsa on 26 July. A French-German photojournalist Lucas Delega died the same way while covering an anti-government protest during the Tunisian uprising in 2011. More than two years on, security forces continue to misuse tear gas – evidence that they have yet to be adequately trained in the lawful use of force.

Hamza Belhaj Mohamed, an activist with the Socialist Party, was injured on 29 July as security officers forcibly dispersed a protest in front of the NCA building, known as the Bardo Palace. Eyewitnesses claimed that, in addition to firing tear gas, security officers used vehicles to chase protesters out of the area. Hamza’s leg was fractured multiple times when a police car knocked him to the ground and drove over him twice.

Recent protests have been fuelled by the severe erosion of public trust in the authorities after a failure to adequately investigate violence against government critics or the killing of opposition politicians. Months afterwards, the killing of Lotfi Nagued from the Nidaa Tounes party in the southern city of Tataouine last October remains unsolved. Meanwhile, progress on the investigation of Chokri Belaid’s killing was only unveiled in the wake of Mohamed Brahmi’s assassination, when the authorities revealed that the same gun was used in the assassinations of both men, who were vocal critics of Ennahda and members of the Popular Front.

Tunisia’s Interior Minister Lofti Ben Jeddou has promised to protect anyone who receives serious death threats and asks for protection. Yet Ammar Amroussia, a leader of the Workers’ Party, part of the Popular Front coalition, told Amnesty International that his request for protection has remained unanswered since February. The veteran political leader from the mining hub of Gafsa has received fresh death threats in recent days.

“They accuse me of being behind all the demonstrations. They’ve threatened me so many times by now it’s almost become part of my everyday life,” he said.

Meanwhile, attacks have been carried out by groups believed to include the vigilante Leagues of Protection of the Revolution and other groups against those they deem to be critical of Ennahdha or to have offended Islam through their art. The lack of accountability for such crimes has helped fuel a climate of mistrust and political polarization. It took an attack on the U.S. embassy last September for the authorities to begin to address such violence.

Reforming the Interior Ministry is no easy task – but steps taken so far have failed to satisfy most Tunisians. Despite the dissolution in 2011 of the feared Department of State Security (DSS), responsible for years of human rights abuses under Ben Ali, security forces continue to perpetrate human rights violations with impunity. Assaults by security forces on demonstrators and journalists, including those on April 9, 2012 as Tunisians protested in solidarity with victims of the 2011 uprising, have not been conclusively investigated, despite the formation of a parliamentary committee of inquiry. Ministry of Interior officials have failed to devise clear reform plans, while multiplying allegations that informal militias and parallel bodies exist within the ministry reveal growing public distrust.

As protests continue, the Ministry of Interior needs to signal its will to regain the trust of the people by granting effective protection to politicians and activists targeted by death threats, and by investigating and prosecuting individuals or groups who use violence against or threaten others. Transparent guidelines must be issued on policing demonstrations in a way that upholds the right of Tunisians to protest, a right they have fought for. Those responsible for unlawful use of force must be held accountable. Security forces must also be vetted and trained according to international human rights standards and security and intelligence structures and chains of command must be made public.

Only concrete steps will convince the Tunisian people that true reform is underway. Reforming Tunisia’s “deep state”, including the security sector, remains the main challenge to securing Tunisians’ human rights in months ahead. Only then will the Ministry of Interior fully transition from its position at the heart of an authoritarian apparatus, to its new role of serving and protecting all citizens regardless of their political leanings.

This article was first published on Tunisia Live http://www.tunisia-live.net/

Livewire Team http://livewire.amnesty.org/2013/08/08/time-for-security-reform-in-tunisia/

Tunisian minister resigns, pressure on government grows

July 31, 2013
By Tarek Amara

TUNIS: Tunisian Education Minister Salem Labyedh has resigned, the prime minister’s spokesman said on Wednesday, as pressure mounted on the Islamist-led government to step down.

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Assassination of Leftist Leader Sparks Mass Protests in Tunisia

Latest murder follows February assassination of leftist opposition figure Chokri Belaid

staff writer Sarah Lazare

Thousands protested in Tunisia’s streets Thursday after leftist opposition party leader Mohammed Brahmi was assassinated at his home earlier in the day.

A head figure in the secularist Popular Front and a visible critic of the ruling Ennahda party, Brahmi’s assassination comes just months after Popular Front leader Chokri Belaid was gunned down earlier this year.

Brahmi was reportedly killed in front of his wife and daughter, and the gunmen fled on motorbikes.

“This criminal gang has killed the free voice of Brahmi,” his widow Mbarka Brahmi told Reuters Thursday, although she did not say who she thinks killed him.

Thousands gathered in cities throughout Tunisia to protest the assassination, including in front of the Tunis Interior Ministry and the Ariana district hospital where Brahmi’s body was transported.

The crowds chanted slogans demanding that the ruling Ennahda party resign and calling for the downfall of Islamists—a reference to the Islamist Ennahda party— according to media reports.

Ennahda says it condemns the murder, yet many of those gathered in the streets charge that the ruling party is directly responsible for the killing.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui—deputy Middle East and North Africa program director at Amnesty International—told the LA Times that the government has at least some culpability:

Little has been done by the authorities to ensure that reported attacks against members of the opposition are adequately investigated and those responsible are brought to justice, fueling a climate of impunity and increasing political polarization.

The assassination of Chokri Belai in February prompted the largest mass protests since Tunisia’s ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings that toppled Ben Ali in 2011.

Many in Tunisia are calling for a second revolution against the Ennahda party now in power, in response to their harsh repression of political dissent, derailment of democracy, crackdown on women’s rights, and continuation of ousted Ben Ali’s neoliberal economic policies that deepen poverty and unemployment.

Tunisia’s rebel movement is calling for a dissolution of Parliament and urging Tunisians to take to the streets.

Further reading available at: https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/07/25-7