Tunisia: Police Brutally Disperse Peaceful Protesters

Special coverage Feature

Tunisian police brutally dispersed protesters outside the headquarters of the Cabinet yesterday (July 15). The protesters were calling for reform and were planning to launch a third sit-in at Kasbah square, which is the epicenter of protests in the Tunisian capital Tunis.

Amongst the demands of the protesters were the departure of the Minister of Justice whom they consider unable to fulfill his duties and, “bring to justice the killers of the revolution martyrs”, and the Interior Minister, Hbib Essid, who held key ministerial positions during the regime of Ben Ali.

Police in Tunisia. Photo by Kissa online blogspot.

Police in Tunisia. Photo by Kissa online blogspot.

Protesters also raised slogans condemning the exclusion of youth from the decision making process, and calling for the independence of the judiciary.

Security forces used tear gas and batons to prevent the protesters from gathering and launching the sit-in. On Twitter, Tunisians continue to record and update people around the world of developments on the ground.

@walidsa3d:Police is trying to disperse protesters using tear gas #kasbah3

@tunisien:Unhappy Tunisians are trying to start a peaceful sit-in and the police welcomes them with violence. #Kasbah3

Security forces also stormed into a mosque and used batons to beat protesters taking refuge inside it.

@walidsa3dCops stormed into the Kasbah mosque and drove out protesters using batons #Kasbah3

@ByLasKo:Les flics ont forcé la porte de la mosquée, tabassé et expulsé les gens qui s’y étaient réfugiés #kasbah3

the cops pushed the door of the mosque, beat up protesters, and expelled the people taking refuge inside

The following YouTube video features protesters taking refuge inside a mosque near Kasbah Square, chanting “Faithful to Martyrs’ Blood”. Some of them got suffocated by tear gas.

Dozens of protesters were also arrested. A message to free all those arrested was published on the blog Kissa-online:

نطالب بنفس الصوت العالي إطلاق سراح كل المؤقوفين (يبدو أن عددهم 48) وخاصة منهم المدونين الفايسبوكر محمد شايح و شهيد بلحاج وأمان الله منصوري.

We are calling out loud for the immediate release of all those arrested (it seems that their number is 48), especially bloggers and Facebook users Mohamed Cheyeh, Shaheed Belhaj and Aman Allah Mansouri.

الإفراج عن 26 من معتقلي القصبه, إحالة 20 على القضاء و تجنيد 35. #kasbah3 #kasba3 #tunisie #tunisia

26 of the arrested at Kasbah have been released, 20 to stand trial and 35 have been forced to join the army to do military service.

The brutal methods of the police in dealing with the protesters angered Tunisian bloggers and reminded them of the old methods of the former regime. Here are some of the reactions on Twitter.

@maroo_king: la #Kasbah3 n’était pas grand-chose (300 personnes) ! je suis pas d’acc avec ce sit-in mais je suis aussi contre la violence de la police !

#Kasbah3 was nothing (300 protesters)! I’m not supporting the sit-in, but I’m against violence exercised by the police.

@guellaty: Je crois que les policiers n’ont pas compris qu’on sortait d’un état policier.

I think that police officers have not yet understood that we are getting out of a police state. #Kasbah3

@Marwen:Sinon, je ne me reconnais pas dans la #Kasbah3, mais pour moi la pression de la rue est indispensable et les lacrymos n’ont aucune justif.

I’m not a supporter of #Kasbah3, but pressure of the street is necessary, and tear gas is not justified


This post is part of a special coverage Tunisia Revolution 2011.


Tunisia: Two Years in Prison for a Song

Rapper Jailed, Supporters and Journalists Assaulted During Trial

Tunis — The two-year prison sentence for a Tunisian rapper on June 13, 2013, for “insulting the police” in a song violates freedom of speech, Human Rights Watch said today.

The criminal court sentence is another manifestation of the continuing intolerance for those who criticize government institutions in Tunisia.The First Instance Criminal Tribunal of Ben Arous, in the southern suburbs of Tunis, sentenced Alaa Eddine Yaakoubi, better known as Oueld El 15 (the 15-year-old boy), to two years in prison for “insulting the police” and defamation of public officials under articles 125, 128, and 226 of the penal code.

The charges stem from a video clip song, “Cops Are Dogs,” which contains a montage of scenes showing the police hitting people. This is the most recent in a string of freedom of speech prosecutions and trials of journalists, bloggers, and artists on charges of defamation or harming the public order.

“It is shocking to see that Tunisia continues to prosecute and jail artists, journalists, and bloggers for peaceful but critical words, lyrics, or images”, said Eric Goldstein, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “It is time to scrap criminal laws that try to stop criticism of the police and other state institutions.”

Article 125 of the penal code punishes by up to one year in prison anyone who insults a public servant in the course of the performance of the person’s duties. Article 128 provides for up to two years in prison for defamation of public officials, and article 226 relates to hampering public morality or decency. Oueld El 15 was sentenced to two years in prison in absentia on March 21. He had been in hiding but later surrendered and asked to have the case reopened.

The case stems from investigations initiated at the police station in Hammam Lif, a city in the southern suburbs of Tunis. Ouled El 15’s lawyer, Ghazi Mrabet, told Human Rights Watch that on March 10, the head of the police station obtained a written order from the public prosecutor to initiate investigations concerning the video clip.

The rapper’s lawyers argued that the articles cited from the penal code were not applicable because the song relates to the institution of the police, and not to a particular person. They also said that the song is an artistic creation and should be protected by freedom of speech.During the sentencing session on June 13, 2013, police used force to dislodge journalists and the rapper’s supporters from the courtroom, and chased them outside of the tribunal, beating many of them.

Assma Mansour, a member of the rapper’s support committee, told Human Rights Watch:

We were around 40 at the courthouse to support Oueld El 15. In the beginning the police didn’t let us in, then two of us were allowed inside the courtroom together with journalists. When the verdict was pronounced, around 2:30 p.m., there was turmoil in the outside hall among supporters, and some of them started shouting “policemen you dogs.” Around 25 policemen in plain clothes started then pushing us, and used pepper gas to disperse and chase us out of the courthouse.

The police also beat Lina Ben Mhenni, a blogger who supports Oueld El 15, as she walked away from the courthouse. She said that right after the verdict, the police pushed people attending the trial out of the courthouse, and then ran after them. She said two policemen came up to her and started hitting her on the face, first using their vests then their bare hands, causing her to fall. A high-ranking officer came and stopped them, she said.

Julie Schneider, a French journalist who attended the sentencing, told Human Rights Watch that the police pushed her: “At the pronouncement of the sentence, there was an outcry in the courtroom. Oueld El 15’s family was in shock and crying, and one journalist, Hind Meddeb, started shouting and saying “cops you dogs.” Policemen became aggressive and brutal, and pushed everyone outside of the courtroom. They pushed me so hard that I have now various bruises on my body.”

Emine Mtiraoui, a journalist from Nawaat, was filming the scenes outside the courthouse when policemen assaulted him, he said. In a video he released, he is heard distinctly telling them, “I’m a journalist,” but they hit him on the head with sticks and attempted to seize and smash his camera.

Since early 2012, there have been numerous cases against journalists, bloggers, artists, and intellectuals for peaceful expression. In September, for example, a public prosecutor brought charges against two sculptors for artworks deemed harmful to public order and good morals. On March 28, the First Instance Criminal Tribunal of Mahdia sentenced two bloggers to prison terms of seven-and-a-half years, confirmed on appeal, for publishing writings perceived as offensive to Islam. On May 3, the First Instance Criminal Tribunal of Tunis fined Nabil Karoui, the owner of the television station Nessma TV, 2,300 dinars (US$1,490) for broadcasting the animated film “Persepolis,” denounced as blasphemous by some Islamists.

In April 2013, a military tribunal sentenced Ayoub Massoudi, former adviser to interim president Moncef Marzouki, to a suspended prison term of four months for impugning the reputation of the army under article 91 of the Code of Military Justice, and for defaming a civil servant. He had accused the army chief of staff and the defense minister of dereliction of duty for failing to inform him in a timely manner of the plan to extradite the former Libyan prime minister, Baghdadi Mahmoudi, to Libya.

On May 29, 2013, the military court of Sfax, in southeastern Tunisia, put Hakim Ghanmi on trial on charges of “undermining the reputation of the army,” “defamation of a public official,” and “disturbing others through public communication networks” over a letter to the defense minister he published on his blog, Warakat Tounsia, in April. In the letter, he complained about the actions of the director of the military hospital in Gabes.

International standards prohibit the application of the notion of defamation to state bodies and institutions. They should not be able to file defamation suits, or have such suits filed on their behalf. In his April 20, 2010 report, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, stated: “Criminal defamation laws may not be used to protect abstract or subjective notions or concepts, such as the State, national symbols, national identity, cultures, schools of thought, religions, ideologies or political doctrines.”

This is consistent with the view, sustained by the special rapporteur, that international human rights law protects individuals and groups of people, not abstract notions or institutions, that are subject to scrutiny, comment, or criticism.

The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression, and Access to Information, a set of principles that many experts agree upon and is widely used, states in principle 7(b):

No one may be punished for criticizing or insulting the nation, the state or its symbols, the government, its agencies or public officials, or a foreign nation state or its symbols, government, agency or public official unless the criticism or insult was intended and likely to incite imminent violence.

“As the National Constituent Assembly is putting the final touches to the new constitution, its members should take a lesson from this judgment and offer the strongest protection for freedom of speech,” Goldstein said.



A private boost to cash-for-work programs in Tunisia

Is the World Bank working with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to address high rates of unemployment in Tunisia? I remember this question clearly. It was asked by an NGO advocate during a recent workshop on public works in the Tunisian capital, Tunis. The World Bank team I was with had just finished highlighting the importance of developing public private partnerships (PPPs) for the delivery of employment services when the question was posed. We responded with an emphatic “yes!” The World Bank has mobilized grant resources from the Japanese government in support of a pilot project it is helping implement in Jendouba, one of the poorest governorates in Tunisia. It involves close collaboration with local NGOs to deliver income support to vulnerable households through labor intensive cash-for-work programs.


Photographer: Curt Carnemark,1992/The World Bank

Our team continued to explain how our project in Jendouba was designed, while the NGO advocate listened with interest. The World Bank, with a grant from a Japanese social development fund, is working with the Tunisian Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment to develop partnerships with local NGOs in Jendouba. The goal is to identify and implement about 100 sub-projects which will provide temporary employment and income support to about three thousand low-skilled individuals who are currently unemployed. The project also aims to enhance basic local infrastructure. NGOs will work closely with the community and local authorities to identify the sub-projects and will employ individuals from the community for a period of four to six months. The first call for sub-project proposals has already been announced, and we expect the Ministry to sign work agreements with NGOs by August, 2013.

Another hand then went up and two very pertinent questions followed.  “Are you proposing that public works in Tunisia be delivered by NGOs?” asked a union representative taking part in the workshop. “Wouldn’t this represent a movement toward privatizing government agencies?” he quickly added.  The team explained that the goal of the Bank’s approach was not to privatize government agencies, but rather to build up their capacities and harness other existing resources to implement social programs – and ultimately address the needs of the most vulnerable segments of the population. Our team insisted that the Bank was fully supportive of national agencies, but that expanding their institutional capacities will take time and will require significant investments. The population of Tunisia wants to see results now, and these partnerships with NGOs are a way of delivering services quickly and effectively.

Public private partnerships for the delivery of employment services are certainly a new concept in Tunisia. Most of the country’s social programs have traditionally been designed, financed, and implemented by the public sector. Cash-for-work programs in Tunisia, for example, have been implemented by local authorities without much involvement or participation of local communities or civil society. These programs have traditionally been large (benefiting more than 150,000 every year) – with budget allocations reaching as high as US150 million per year.

Following the political transition, cash-for-work programs in Tunisia became largely cash transfer programs and governance of these programs has since then substantially deteriorated. Currently, beneficiaries get paid but they often do not show up for the related work and sub-projects, like painting or rehabilitating a school, for example; are rarely completed. Program monitoring is largely lacking, which contributes to misuse of resources. There have also been instances of favoritism with program beneficiaries being selected at the discretion of local authorities, unsupported by any clear eligibility criteria.

In such context, the Jendouba pilot intends to be an agent of change by making NGOs accountable for identifying cash-for-work sub-projects that are relevant to communities. NGOS would be responsible for verifying participant’s attendance at both work and training, and for assuring that sub-projects are not only properly completed but also that they meet quality standards acceptable to the relevant technical authorities. The project is also developing a state- of-the-art (web-based) system to monitor payments, attendance, use of materials, and complaints. This system would also enable NGOs to register and submit sub-project proposals for consideration on-line. This new community driven approach intends to provide mechanisms for promoting good governance and the effective use of public resources allocated in cash-for-work programs. This pilot project could also serve as a catalyst for a much broader effort. If it is successful, the methods and systems being developed could form the basis for a reform of the delivery of cash-for-work programs in Tunisia at the national scale.

For more information about this pilot project, please visit this site.

Follow the pilot project on facebook.



FEMEN facing Trial for case leniency

Little sympathy for topless protesters

Tunis – While some Tunisians believe Femen activist Amina Sboui is being harshly treated for her anti-Islamist protest, there is little public sympathy for three European women who bared their breasts in support of her.

The three women, two French and one German, face jail terms of up to a year when they go on trial in Tunis on Wednesday, although their lawyer is confident of a lighter sentence.



Obama Administration Shocked by verdict in Embassy Trial

U.S. shocked by light sentences for Salafists who attacked embassy in Tunisia

Special to WorldTribune.com

WASHINGTON — The United States has been concerned over what
officials termed Tunisia’s lenient treatment of Al Qaida supporters.

Officials said the administration of President Barack Obama was stunned
by the two-year suspended sentences handed out by a Tunisian court to 20
Salafists convicted of attacking the U.S. embassy in the North African state
in September 2012.


World TribuneWorldTribune.com

Tunisian Soldiers Injured by land mine blasts

Landmine blast wounds Tunisian soldiers

Tunis – Three Tunisian soldiers have been wounded in a landmine explosion near the Algerian border where security forces are pursuing Islamist insurgents, the defence ministry said.


Tunisian Soldiers Injured in Land mine blast

Landmine blast wounds 3 Tunisian soldiers near Algerian border

(Reuters) – Three Tunisian soldiers have been wounded in a landmine explosion near the Algerian border where security forces are pursuing Islamist insurgents, the defense ministry said.

The incident, which happened on Saturday, was the latest of several mine blasts in the remote area of Mount Chaambi, the focus of a hunt for Islamist militants since December.



Tunisian Soldiers Injured in Blast

Tunisia soldiers hunting Qaeda wounded by mine

TUNIS (AFP) – Three Tunisian soldiers hunting Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in the rugged border region near Algeria have been wounded in a mine explosion on Mount Chaambi, the defence ministry said.

“The blast happened at 6:15 pm (1715 GMT on Saturday) under a military vehicle, wounding three soldiers,” ministry spokesman Colonel Mokhtar Ben Nasr told AFP.


Tunisian Trial of US embassy attack begins

US embassy attack trial opens in Tunis

Twenty people accused of involvement in a deadly attack on the US embassy last year went on trial in Tunis on Tuesday. Angry protesters attacked the embassy on September 14, 2012, after a US man released a video online that many thought mocked Islam.


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Around Town in Tunis

What’s on in Tunis: May 23 – 29

Chris Barfield | 22 May 2013

“Spines of Jasmine,” a new drama by director Rachid Ferchiou, is playing at cinemas across Tunis this month.  The Hope Contemporary Art Gallery in La Marsa is hosting an exhibition for three aspiring artists entitled “Young Little Monsters.”  On Friday, Tahar Haddad Cultural Club’s weekly Literary Salon features poet, writer, and critic Salwa Al-Rashidi.