In Tunisia, protests against police brutality turned violent on Saturday, June 12 after security forces initiated a violent crackdown against hundreds of protesters in the working class neighborhood of Sidi Hassine in capital Tunis. Protests against police brutality have been taking place in the country since Tuesday, last week following the death of a man in police custody who was arrested on suspicion of dealing drugs. The family of the deceased has accused the police of beating him to death. An investigation has been opened into the incident, even as the interior ministry preemptively denied that the man had faced any physical abuse after being arrested.
On Saturday, security forces reportedly used tear gas to subdue the protesters. According to reports, security personnel also physically assaulted protesters with sticks. The protesters responded by throwing stones, chairs and water bottles at the police, following which several of them were arrested. A related demonstration was organized in front of the interior ministry building by residents of working-class neighborhoods in Tunis accompanied by members and activists from various left-wing organizations. Mothers of three young Tunisians who died in police custody in the last three years participated in the demonstration.
The Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH) in a statement condemned the violence unleashed by the security forces on unarmed protesters and accused the government of prime minister Hichem Mechichi of trying to “silence the voices of protest.” Mechichi is also the interim interior minister of Tunisia. LTDH also noted that the man who was arrested was killed in very “suspicious circumstances”.
In the midst of these protests, a video has been made public which shows police officers in civilian clothes stripping a minor naked and assaulting him in Sidi Hassine. The footage has caused shock and outrage in the country and evoked widespread condemnation from political parties, human rights groups, and others. After the video surfaced, the police officers involved in the incident were suspended from duty and arrested. An investigation has been launched into the case, which the prime minister termed as shocking and unacceptable.
Expressing concern over the increasing frequency of such cases in working class districts over the years, Tunisia’s independent High Human Rights Commission said that they are “undermining confidence in the state and its institutions”. Calling for justice and accountability, several human rights activists and civil society groups have warned that incidents of police brutality negatively affect the credibility of the police reforms initiated by the government following the 2011 revolution which had overthrown the authoritarian regime of long term president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. As per activists, such incidents serve as a setback to the democratic progress made in the country since the revolution. In the past, security forces personnel have escaped prosecution and punishment for their misuse of power and abuses against fellow Tunisians.