Anniversary of Jasmine Revolution marred by detention of hundreds of protesters

Peaceful Assembly

Widespread protests and the arrest of at least 800 people marred the anniversary of  the 2011 Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. On 14th January 2018, seven years after the Revolution ousted Tunisian President Ben Ali, hundreds of people took to the streets in several cities across the country to voice their opposition to the latest austerity measures adopted by the government. Clashes between security forces and protesters were documented in a number of protests. 

Amnesty International commented on the clashes and actions of the security forces, asserting that:

"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".

In an attempt to quell the protests, on 13th January 2018 the government pledged more money for poor families and those in need, a move which many fear it is too little and too late. A segment ofTunisian society believes that the demands of social equality, improved socio-economic conditions and attention to the situation for the most disadvantaged groups are being ignored by political parties more interested short-term political gain than long-term economic and political reform. 

While progress has been made towards building democracy in Tunisia, rising inflation, high youth unemployment and political infighting has blighted economic growth and led to budget cuts. An analysis by the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) reflected on the reasons behind the January unrest and attributed the protests, in part, to the recent passage of the Economic Reconciliation Act. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, despite push back from civil society, the highly controversial bill was passed in late 2017, granting amnesty to public officials involved in corruption cases during Tunisia's 23 years of dictatorship. In a press statement on 10th January 2017, FTDES called for an alternative development model which respects constitutional rights and takes into account consultations with citizen movements, civil society organisations and trade unions. 

Given the growing unrest and hundreds of arrests, several international observers have expressed concern over the Tunisian authorities' disregard for the right to protest. On 12th January 2018, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioners for Human Rights declared that:

"We are concerned about the high number of arrests – 778 people have been arrested since Monday, some 200 of them between the ages of 15 and 20. We call on the authorities to ensure that people are not arrested in an arbitrary manner, and that all those detained are treated with full respect for their due process rights and other fundamental guarantees".

While reports from the ground differ on the total number of protesters arrested some sources indicate that by 16th January 2018, as many as 937 individuals had been detained.

In addition to the arrests, there have been cases of police harassment of journalists during the protests. Reporters Without Borders documented the brief detention and interrogation of one reporter and the confiscation of another’s phone. ‬Tunisia Review reporter Nadim Bouamoud’s telephone was seized by a police officer on 7th January 2018, while he was recording video footage of one of the protests. At the time of the seizure, Bouamoud was live streaming an anti-austerity campaign, whose slogan is "Fech nestannew?" (What are we waiting for?). Amnesty International reported that at least 15 activists involved in the campaign were arrested for "calling for demonstrations".