Amnesty Intl against use of force on Tunisian demonstrators

Interior ministry vows to find those responsible for protests

12 January, 19:54

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, JANUARY 12 - Amnesty International called on Tunisian security forces to refrain from using excessive force and put an end to their intimidating tactics against those who are peacefully demonstrating against austerity measures, according to a statement by the human rights organisation on Friday.

    In the last four days, security forces have used increasingly tougher methods to disperse protests and carry out arrests.

    Protester Khomsi el-Yerfeni died the night of January 8 during a demonstration in the town of Tebourba, 30 km west of Tunis.

    "The Tunisian authorities must prioritize the safety of peaceful protesters and ensure that security forces only use force where absolutely necessary and proportionate, and to protect the rights of others," said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International's Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, cited in the statement.

    "These protests are happening in response to genuine economic hardship, and the role of the police should be to calm this tense situation, rather than to inflame it," she said.

    Protests against price rises and tax increases by the country's government have taken place in at least 20 cities across the country since January 8.

    The youth movement "Fesh Nestannew?" (What are we waiting for?) is calling on the government to revise the measures.

    On January 8, security forces used batons to disperse a group of the movement's members as they marched peacefully in downtown Tunis to demand the release of fellow activists in custody.

    At least 15 of the group's activists and coordinators have been arrested for writing slogans on walls or distributing pamphlets calling for demonstrations. Many were released after intensive questioning, but philosophy professor Ahmed Sassi, who was arrested in Tunis on January 10, is still in jail. "These arrests appear to be intimidation. The Tunisian authorities are targeting people for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly," said Morayef.

    Some protests have given rise to sporadic violence that also included looting and vandalism.

    Over half of the nearly 800 people arrested for disturbances in the past few nights in Tunisia are between the ages of 21 and 30 years old, with 31.53% between the ages of 15 and 20, said Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani.

    The arrests have been on charges of destruction, theft, looting, and insulting a public official. The protest movements that have simultaneously erupted in the country are "the fruit of a meticulous organisation whose instigators will be exposed", Chibani said.(ANSAmed).

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