STATEMENT: Support to protest movements in Tunisia and call for the release of demonstrators

March 2021

NOVACT, International Institute for Nonviolent Action, denounces the security response given to the protest movements and the violation of rights in the police actions. We reaffirm that the respect to human rights is a necessary condition for prevention of violent extremism.

These last weeks, protest movements have appeared in different regions of the Republic of Tunisia, in particular in the neighbourhoods and areas that suffer the most from marginalisation and exclusion and that live all kinds of structural, social and economic violence every day.

These protests, bringing together mostly young demonstrators, often minors, call on the Tunisian government to improve their living conditions, a real policy against poverty and concrete action to ensure access to employment. They demand respect for the Constitution and specially the right to a decent life (article 21 of the Constitution). Face with this despair, many people have decided to leave the country. Those who have stayed ask today to be heard: “Work, Freedom, Social Dignity”.

The reaction from the government to these demonstrations has been made through a security response: our partners in Tunisia have identified more than 2.000 people who have been arrested, most of them being minors; arbitrary arrest, sometimes in private homes, without arrest warrant; excessive and disproportionate use of force (demonstrators beaten and dragged along the ground, use of batons, tear gas, insults…); arbitrary decisions dispersal of demonstrations; arrest and harassment of human rights defenders (like Hamza Nasri Jeridi or Badr Baabou, from the DAMJ association); ill-treatment and non-respect of human rights in case of arrest (law 5-2016); summary trials (100 people tried in 4h in Ben Arous), without layers, without medical assistance for those who have been hurt…

The number of abusive arrests and the violence used by the police to disperse these demonstrations illustrate the political will to shrink the use of public space and the legitimate expression of discontent by the population.

The Tunisian government must ensure that its Constitution is respected by guaranteeing citizens respect to the right to protest and assembly and their fundamental rights in case of arrest.

In Tunisia, as elsewhere, the establishment of states of health or security emergencies have allowed repeated violations of fundamental rights, under the guise of a threat to public order. Political freedoms are not a luxury in a democratic state: they are a necessity. A democratic society cannot be built or preserved if freedom of assembly and freedom of association are not guaranteed, promoted and respected.

The health context must not justify the illegal and liberticidal practices of governments. On the contrary, as an amplifier of inequalities and structural dysfunctions, it must be the occasion for a rethinking of the social protection system to allow for the best possible support for citizens in distress, and in particular young people.

The social and economic malaise calls for social and economic responses.

Faced with this situation, NOVACT, reaffirms its support and :

DENOUNCES the repressive and violent security response chosen by the Tunisian government

APPEALS to the Tunisian government to take responsibility for upholding the 2014 Constitution and enforcing all laws that guarantee the protection of fundamental human rights

DEMANDS the immediate release of all peaceful demonstrators, activists and human rights defenders arbitrarily arrested.

CALLS for the provisional release of persons who may be subject to prosecution (until there is clear evidence of offences under the law)

CALLS for compliance with Law 5-2016 guaranteeing fundamental rights in case of arrest: the right to the presence of a lawyer, the right to a medical examination, the obligation to inform the family, and general rules concerning police custody. Numerous shortcomings have been observed by human rights organisations.

APPEALS to the responsibility of the Tunisian government to propose a peaceful and constructive response to these protests, by opening dialogue and proposing concrete measures for social protection.

NOVACT will continue to defend respect for human rights around the Mediterranean as a necessary condition for the prevention of violent extremism. NOVACT will continue to defend the idea that security treatment of protests is unacceptable and cannot be the solution. NOVACT and its partners will continue to support Tunisian organisations and activists who have chosen nonviolent strategies of civil struggle and defence as tools for social transformation of societies.

We will not fail to join all demonstrations, all national and international actions that claim solidarity with human rights organisations, in order to guarantee a just peace, without repression or violence, wherever necessary.

Picture: Regional Press