A day after the harsh crackdown on a demonstration marking Martyrs’ Day 0n 9 April, Reporters Without Borders wrote to the Tunisian authorities to express its indignation.
President Moncef Marzouki
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali
Interior Minister Ali Laarayedh
Constituent Assembly President Mustafa Ben Jafar
Members of the Constituent Assembly
Tunis, 10 April 2012
Reporters Without Borders, an organization that campaigns for freedom of news and information, was shocked to witness the violent crackdown by the security forces against a gathering in central Tunis on 9 April to commemorate Martyrs’ Day.
On that disastrous day, the organization recorded assaults on 16 journalists, including two foreign reporters. Reporters Without Borders has not witnessed violence of such magnitude since the overthrow of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January last year.
Since 28 March, demonstrations have been banned on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the hub of the protests and a symbol of the Tunisian revolution. Hundreds of people ignored the ban and responded to a call for a demonstration by various civil society organizations.
Police units deployed in central Tunis deliberately set upon the demonstrators and journalists covering the event. Officers did their utmost to prevent those present from recording the abuses by taking photos or video footage.
Journalists’ equipment was smashed, memory cards were confiscated and images deleted, and media workers and citizen journalists beaten and arbitrarily arrested.
The use of tear gas, the display of force by police in plain clothes, the pursuit of fleeing protesters and a multitude of abuses are a reminder that police violence remains rife and the old responses acquired by the security forces during the Ben Ali era have resurfaced in an atmosphere of total impunity.
Reporters Without Borders insists on the immediate creation of an independent inquiry commission to shed light on the disturbances, to establish whether the police were given a free hand to use violence and to impose punishments for offences committed by the police.
When such attacks were carried out previously, internal investigations were promised several times by the new leadership but their outcome has not been made public and no one has questioned whether the authorities were sincere in their wish to solve the problem of police violence.
Violent demonstrations broke out in several towns and cities in protest. At the same time, members of the National Constituent Assembly decided to hold a gathering today on Habib Bourguiba Avenue. This demonstration did not give rise to any clashes, proof that the police can manage spontaneous protests peacefully.
In view of these worrying events, Reporters Without Borders warns the authorities against the dangers of yet more words with no real desire for change.
The violence that was witnessed on 9 April has no place in a democratic state and Reporters Without Borders believes that, unless control is quickly reasserted, Tunisia could find itself swept up in escalating violence.
To prevent this, the political leadership must reaffirm its commitment to basic freedoms.
The stakes are high and the excesses recorded on 9 April raise many questions, such as what is the goal of such systematic repression. Reporters Without Borders calls on the interior ministry, some of whose officials were behind the violence, to take urgent steps to ensure a halt to such attacks.
Proceedings should be launched under article 14 of the new press law which prohibits “the humiliation or harm of a journalist, verbally or by gesture, action or threat”.
Programs must be created to educate members of the security forces in journalists’ work and rights and beyond, and a wide-ranging reform of the security apparatus must be undertaken.
The organization also appeals to the authorities to send a strong signal to all those who flout freedom of expression and the freedom of journalists to inform the public with complete independence.
Do not hesitate to contact us if you require further information.
Please accept our most earnest democratic wishes.