AVOID MUSLIM TUNISIA
Tunisia declares state of emergency after deadly bus blast
declared a nationwide state of emergency and a curfew in the capital
Tunis on Tuesday after at least 12 people were killed in a bomb attack
on a presidential guard bus in the third major attack claimed by the
Islamic State group this year.
Another 17 were wounded in the attack, according to an interior ministry statement.
The blast struck as presidential guards were boarding the bus on the capital’s Mohamed V Avenue to be taken to the presidential palace on the outskirts of the city, security sources said.
"I was on Mohamed V Avenue, about to get into my car, when there was a huge explosion. I saw the bus blow up. There were bodies and blood everywhere," witness Bassem Trifi told reporters at the scene.
Mohamed V is a major boulevard usually packed with traffic and pedestrians, with several hotels and banks.
A government official said initial investigations showed the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber wearing a backpack who blew himself as he got onto the bus.
“According to the preliminary details, the attacker was wearing a bag on his back. He had on a coat and was wearing headphones. He blew himself up just getting into the door of the bus with military explosives,” Hichem Gharbi, a presidential security official, told local Shems FM radio.
The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted online on Wednesday.
It said a jihadist identified as Abu Abdullah al-Tunisi carried out the attack after infiltrating the bus.
State of emergency
President Beji Caid Essebsi, who cancelled a trip to Switzerland planned for Wednesday, declared a state of emergency throughout the country and a curfew in the capital.
"As a result of this painful event, this great tragedy... I proclaim a state of emergency for 30 days under the terms of law, and a curfew in greater Tunis from 9 pm until 5 am tomorrow," he said in a brief televised address.
Troops and armed police were seen patrolling the city streets and setting up checkpoints searching vehicles and pedestrians in the hours following the attack, while security was stepped up at Tunis international airport.
The United States condemned the attack and offered to help the Tunisian authorities with their investigation.
US Secretary of State John Kerry "was proud to stand with Tunisian leaders earlier this month in Tunis and reaffirm our countries' extensive economic, governance, and security cooperation", a spokesman for his department said.
The UN Security Council urged its members to help bring the perpetrators to justice, adding that "no terrorist attack can reverse the path of Tunisia towards democracy and its efforts towards economic recovery".
Challenge of extremists
Islamist extremists have become a major challenge for Tunisia, a small North African country that was hailed as a blueprint for democratic change and success story in the region after the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 ousted autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
The country has already suffered two major terror attacks this year. A militant killed 38 foreigners at a beach hotel in June, while gunmen killed 21 tourists at the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March. The IS group claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Tunisia has had free elections and is operating under a new constitution and a broad political consensus that has allowed secular and Islamist parties to overcome a crisis that threatens to overturn their young democracy.
But several thousand Tunisians have also left to fight in Syria, Iraq and Libya with the IS group and other militant groups, and some have threatened to carry out attacks at home.
The army has also been fighting against another Islamist militant group in the mountains near the Algerian border.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Gunman kills 39 at Tunisian beachside hotel, Islamic State claims attack
SOUSSE, TUNISIA | BY TAREK AMARA
A gunman disguised as a tourist opened fire at a Tunisian hotel on Friday with a rifle he had hidden in an umbrella, killing 39 people including Britons, Germans and Belgians as they lounged at the beach in an attack claimed by Islamic State.
Terrified tourists ran for cover after the gunfire and an explosion erupted at the Imperial Marhaba in Sousse, 140 km (90 miles) south of the capital Tunis, before police shot the gunman dead, witnesses and security officials said.
The bodies of several tourists lay crumbled where they fell in the sand, covered with yellow towels and blankets among the plastic white sunbeds. Blood smeared stone steps leading from the hotel main area.
"This was always a safe place but today was horror," said an Irish tourist who gave only his first name, Anthony. "He started on the beach and went to the lobby, killing in cold blood."
The attack took place during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, on a day in which a decapitated body daubed with Arabic writing was found in France, a suicide bomber killed two dozen people at a mosque in Kuwait and at least 145 civilians were reported killed by Islamic State militants in northern Syria.
In a statement on social media, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Tunisian attack. It had urged its followers to step up assaults during Ramadan.
Twitter accounts that support Islamic State released three photos they said showed the gunman. A man is seen from behind walking down a street and holding an assault rifle, though his identity and the location are unclear.
"Our brother, the soldier of the Caliphate, Abu Yihya al-Kairouni, reached his target the Imperial hotel despite the security measures," the statement said. It said he had attacked a "bordel" and killed 40 "infidels'.
After pulling out a weapon hidden inside an umbrella, the assailant strolled through the hotel grounds, opening fire left and right at the pool and beach, reloading his weapon several times and tossing an explosive, witnesses said.
A security source said another bomb was found on his body, which lay with a Kalashnikov assault rifle where he was shot.
Rafik Chelli, a senior interior ministry official, said the gunman killed was unknown to authorities and not on any watchlist of potential jihadists. A security source named him as Saifeddine Rezgui, a 23-year-old electrical engineering student.
Local radio said police captured a second gunman, but officials did not immediately confirm the arrest or his role in the attack.
"It was just one attacker," said a hotel worker at the site. "He was a young guy dressed in shorts like he was a tourist himself."
"RUN, RUN, RUN!"
It was the worst attack in Tunisia's modern history and the second major massacre this year following the Islamist militant assault on Tunis Bardo museum when gunmen killed 21 foreign visitors.
A health ministry statement said British, German and Belgian nationals were among the 39 dead. The health minister told French radio 36 others were wounded in the shooting.
At least five British citizens were among the dead, Britain's Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said. Ireland's foreign ministry said at least one Irish citizen was killed.
Tunisia, which has been hailed as a model of democratic transition since its 2011 'Arab Spring' uprising, is one of the most secular countries in the Arab world. Its beach resorts and nightclubs on the Mediterranean are popular with foreigners.
Islamist jihadists have attacked North African tourist sites before, seeing them as legitimate targets because of their open Western lifestyles and tolerance of alcohol.
Irishwoman Elizabeth O'Brien, who was staying at a neighboring hotel with her two sons, said there was panic on the beach when gunfire erupted.
"I honestly thought it was fireworks and then when I saw people running... I thought, my God, it is shooting," she told Irish radio station RTE. "The waiters and the security on the beach started to say 'Run, run, run!'"
Islamic State made some claim to the Bardo museum attack, but authorities blamed possible splinter fighters from the Okba Ibn Nafaa, a brigade of al Qaeda-affiliated fighters, operating in the Chaambi mountains along the Algerian border.
In Sousse, many tourists were already packing their suitcases into busses and checking out of hotels to leave after the attack.
German tour operator TUI said on Friday it was organizing flights for tourists wishing to return from Tunisia and said those who booked Tunisian holidays for this summer could rebook or cancel the trips free of charge.
Sousse, alongside nearby Hammamet and the island of Djerba, is the heartland of Tunisia's most popular beach resorts, drawing visitors from Europe and neighboring North African countries like Algeria.
Six million tourists, mostly Europeans, visited Tunisia's beaches, desert treks and medina souks last year, providing seven percent of its gross domestic product, most of its foreign currency revenues and more jobs than anything but farming.
"This is a catastrophe for the economy," Tourism Minister Salma Loumi said. "Our losses will be great, but the loss of human life was even greater."
Since its 2011 uprising to oust autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has been praised for its peaceful democratic transition bringing free elections and a new constitution seen as a model for the region.
But the country has also struggled with the rise of Islamist movements as ultra-conservative preachers took advantage of the upheaval and young democracy to take over mosques and spread their hardline message.
Several thousand Tunisian jihadists have left the country to fight in Syria, Iraq and neighboring Libya, where some have set up jihadist training camps and promised to return to attack their homeland.
Tunis museum attackers wore belts packed with explosives
Friday 20 March 2015
Gunmen who shot dead 21 people at Tunisia’s Bardo Museum were also armed with explosive suicide belts and would have killed many more had police not reacted so quickly to the attack, the country’s president said last night.
In an Independence Day television address, President Beji Caid Essebsi described the carnage as a “great disaster” but said it could have been much worse.
Speaking of the police response, he said: “Their intervention stopped the terrorists from setting off their explosive belts, which would have caused more than 100 deaths if they had detonated.”
His address came on the day, the 59th anniversary of independent from France, that thousands of people gathered on the main Avenue Habib Bourguiba in the heart of the capital in the wake of the massacre that threatened to throw the fledgling democracy into dissaray.
Some danced while draped in Tunisian flags. “We will continue with our path to democracy,” promised Soumaya Said, a young woman waving a sign saying “We’re Bardo, We are Tunisia, We are against Terrorism”,
Adib Adela, a school inspector from the southern Tunisian town of Zarzis, said the rally had special significance in the wake of the attacks. “We are here to support the language of tolerance, not of violence,” he said.
The show of national unity came as more details emerged about the two men who killed 20 foreign tourists the Bardo Museum. Yassine Laabidi and Hatem Khachnaoui travelled to Libya in December to receive weapons training in December, said the authorities. Laabidi hailed from the working-class Tunis suburb of Ibn Khaldun, and Khachnaoui was from the western town of Sbeitla.
“Events in the southern Mediterranean are dangerous for Europe,” European Council President Donald Tusk told a news conference after an EU summit in Brussels. “We have to offer everything we can to stabilise the situation in Tunisia. We can’t say Tunisia is destabilised after this terrorist attack, but the risk is quite obvious,” he added.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said the UK Government “stands ready” to send specialist counter-terrorism police to support the post-attack investigation.
For some in Tunisia, the attack was evidence that authorities had not done enough to battle the threat of terror. “We’ve been experiencing the problem of terrorism for three years and the authorities haven’t done enough,” Mr Adela, who is a member of the leftist Popular Front movement, said. “The most important thing is to hold a proper investigation, and to find out who was behind this,” he added
The repatriation of the injured has begun, with four Polish patients and two French patients being evacuated from Hospital Charles Nicolle, the main hospital where those injured in the attack have been housed, being flown out yesterday afternoon.
“I have been very well treated and would definitely return to Tunisia,” a Polish patient told The Independent, smiling as he was wheeled into an ambulance on his way to the airport.
Poland’s foreign ministry said yesterday that a third Polish citizen was confirmed dead after Wednesday’s attack. Ten Poles were wounded in the attack, it said in a statement.
On Thursday, the ministry said it had established that two Polish citizens were among the tourists shot by gunmen, with one presumed missing.
Professor Anis Klouz, head of the crisis group in Tunis that is overseeing the medical and counselling services for the victims and their families, said the majority of victims had now been identified.
Tunisian Health Minister Samar Samoud told The Associated Press yesterday the latest tally of victims included four Italians, three Japanese and three French, two Spanish and two Colombians and one citizen each from Britain, Poland and Belgium.
French, German Women Face Court for Tunisia Topless Protest
5 JUNE 2013
Two French women and a German went on trial in Tunisia on Wednesday for holding a topless anti-Islamist protest in the capital, Tunis.
The members of the “sextremist” group Femen could face six months in jail for “debauchery”.
Femen members Pauline Hillier and Marguerite Stern from France, and Josephine Markmann from Germany arrived in court wearing the traditional Tunisian headscarf, the safsari.
Judge Karim Chebbi called a break in the hearing at the end of the morning becasue lawyers representing Islamist groups asked to participate in the trial as civil parties.
"We are asking for a delay to examine the file and prepare our argument," said Anouar Ouled Ali, who has previously defended hardline Salafists prosecuted for acts of violence.
The defence called for the request to be dismissed, and demanded that the activists, who have been in custody for seven days, be released.
French lawyer Patrick Klugman, representing the women, said he was optimistic about the trial, calling it "a good sign" that he had been allowed to speak in court.
A small group of demonstrators earlier abused one of the women’s Tunisian lawyers.
Klugman said the prosecution had decided on a charge of debauchery, which carries a prison sentence of up six months, rather than an attack on public morals.
He said there were no facts or evidence of intent to back up the charge and that the women used their bodies to convey a political message not to seduce anyone.
Femen says that a Ukrainian activist, who had travelled to Tunisia to support the women, was deported on Tuesday, although the authorities have not confirmed the claim.
Several Femen activists stripped to the waste and performed Muslim prayers outside the Tunisian embassy in the French capital in solidarity on Wednesday.
The women on trial in Tunis staged the group's first topless protest in the Arab world outside the city's main courthouse on 29 May.
They were demonstrating in support of Amina Sboui, a Tunisian activist arrested after painting the word "Femen" on a wall near a cemetery in the Muslim spiritual centre of Kairouan, in protest against radical Islamists.
Sboui was due to appear in a closed hearing in Kairouan on Wednesday.
Hardline Islamists seed terror in Tunisian town
BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA
May 26, 2012
TUNIS, Tunisia — Hundreds of hardline Islamists terrorized a Tunisian town on Saturday, attacking a police station and stores selling alcohol.
The official TAP news agency said police fired tear gas in Jendouba to disperse groups of ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis, some armed with clubs or sabers.Four people were arrested and police were searching for others, Interior Minister Ali Laarayedh said on Radio Mosaique.There has been a resurgence of hardline Islamists since the fall in February 2011 of Tunisia's autocratic leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had jailed many Islamists and forced others underground.
TAP said 200 Salafis reacted violently to the arrest on Friday of a fellow Muslim adhering to their brand of Islam. They threw Molotov cocktails and stones at Jendouba's national security headquarters, their numbers growing to some 500 as they moved to the center of town. They set fire to the police station and pillaged bars and stores where alcohol was sold en route, some calling for a holy war.
As police used tear gas, soldiers took up positions outside public buildings. The Salafis eventually took refuge in a mosque, TAP said.
The violence came a week after Salafis attacked bars and other places selling liquor in Sidi Bouzid, the central western town where the spark of the Tunisian revolution that triggered the Arab Spring was lit.
In a dramatic display of force, hundreds of Salafis dressed in Afghan-style garb gathered from several regions in the holy city of Kairouan last Sunday. With some bearing sabers and astride horses, they carried out martial arts exercises or rode around under the eye of Abu Yadh, whose real name is Seifallah Ben Hassine. He was imprisoned under Ben Ali but pardoned after his fall.
Tunisia: Islamic extremists attack university head over veil ban
OCT 9, 2011 by Katerina Nikolas
A group of extremist Islamists reacted violently to a university's refusal to enrol a woman wearing a niqab. They stormed the university in Sousse, attacking the General Secretary.
Extreme Islamists reacted with violence when a university in Sousse, Tunisia, refused to enrol a woman wearing a niqab. The Ministry of Education imposed a niqab (full-face veil) ban at the beginning of the academic year. Alarabiya reported that a group of 200 protesters stormed the university demanding students’ rights to wear the veil.
Moncef Abdul Jalil, a faculty head at the university, said
“The General Secretary of the university was attacked this morning with extreme violence by a group of religious extremists” adding “This serious incident caused a state of terror and panic in the ranks of college students and professors.”
In reaction to the incident a group of about 200 women formed a counter-protest in Tunis, arranged online, to protest against religious violence.
The full-face veil was previously alien to Tunisia’s predominantly secular society, but since the fall of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali the influence of Islamists is growing. Tunisia will hold elections later this month and the Islamic Ennahada party is expected to win. The party, inspired by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, was banned under Ben Ali’s rule, but was legalized earlier this year. France 24 reported the party was founded in 1981 by Rachid Ghannouchi, who returned to Tunisia from exile in London in Jan. this year.
During an interview with Reuters, Rachid Ghannouchi stressed that the party will not try to impose strict Islamic rules, saying
“All the values of democracy and modernity are respected by Ennahda. We are a party that can find a balance between modernity and Islam.”
On the issue of the veil he promised
"A woman's freedom and her freedom of dress has been established and we will develop it."
Tunisia has long been dependent on its tourist industry which relies on the country’s secular image. Tourism was dealt a devastating blow following the uprising which led to the ousting of Ben Ali, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a secular and tolerant attitude.
WHO warns of epidemics among refugees in Tunisia
(AFP) – March 3, 2011
TUNIS — The UN World Health Organisation warned Thursday of risks of epidemics among the tens of thousands of people massed in southern Tunisia after fleeing violence in Libya.
"There is not for the moment a humanitarian crisis in the proper sense of the term. But the risks of epidemics are real," a WHO assistant director general, Eric Laroche, told a news briefing.
"We have a concentration of several tens of thousands of people. There are all the ingredients for an epidemic explosion," Laroche said after a visit to the zone where refugees are camped.
He warned of "enormous overcrowding and a lack of hygienic conditions" and said "the pressing need is to have fewer and fewer people who are concentrated there."
"We need to repatriate them by plane and ship and to set up a system to monitor epidemics and provide early warning of contagious diseases."
Laroche praised the "incredible" solidarity of Tunisians with the refugees.
Three million dollars would be needed to cover the immediate requirements of the WHO in southern Tunisia, he said.
The health situation close to the border with Libya "can change from one day to the next," Laroche went on, warning of a large-scale catastrophe if the refugees were not rapidly repatriated.
Laroche announced that a WHO team was due in eastern Libya on Thursday to evaluate needs among the people in this part of the country, which is controlled by opponents of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
Humanitarian organisations and the international community raced against time on Wednesday to prevent chaos and help the tens of thousands of people in precarious conditions on Tunisia's border with Libya.
The UN World Food Programme announced an emergency aid plan worth 38.7 million dollars (27.9 million euros) to help 2.7 million people in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.
The European Commission decided to increase the amount of its emergency aid from three to 10 million euros.
Peddler's martyrdom launched Tunisia's revolution
Thu Jan 20, 2011
By Lin Noueihed
SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia Jan 20 (Reuters) - It began with a slap and an insult hurled at a vegetable seller in a small town surrounded by scrub and cactus. It ended with a revolution that has shaken authoritarian leaders across the Arab world.
Residents of Sidi Bouzid, where weeds grow in the dust that covers the streets, say anger had been building for years before Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, igniting weeks of demonstrations that spread across the country and unseated Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years of repressive rule.
In the centre of Tunisia, Sidi Bouzid is a world apart from the expensive coastal resorts that are home to Tunisia's elite.
Its infrastructure is falling apart. Its hospital lacks facilities, residents say, while joblessness and corrupt local officials have fed resentment.
Local authorities had confiscated Bouazizi's unlicensed cart several times before, but the turning point for the 26-year-old, and for his town and ultimately his country, came on Dec. 17.
The breadwinner in a family of eight, Bouazizi argued with a policewoman who took away his goods and scales. The policewoman gave him a slap in the face and a slur against his father, who died when he was three.
Without telling his family, Bouazizi bought a can of petrol and set himself on fire outside the provincial headquarters.
"What kind of repression do you imagine it takes for a young man to do this? A man who has to feed his family by buying goods on credit when they fine him ... and take his goods," his sister Leila told Reuters at the family's home in a rundown suburb.
"In Sidi Bouzid, those with no connections and no money for bribes are humiliated and insulted and not allowed to live."
Bouazizi's mother and sisters sat on mattresses arranged around the wall, a cabinet the only other furniture in the living room, wearing Muslim headscarves rarely seen on the streets of the capital under Ben Ali's secular rule.
"I ask God that Ben Ali's people, and the Trabelsi family, who were ruling Tunisia, go completely," Bouazizi's mother Mannoubia said, referring to the family of Ben Ali's wife, whose huge and ostentatious wealth angered many Tunisians.
BIRTH OF A REVOLUTION
Tunisia's uprising began in a region residents say has been marginalised by successive rulers from the northern coast.
Small white houses line dusty roads, many of them unpaved, in Bouazizi's neighbourhood. On crumbling walls, graffiti tells passersby of the town's pride in his role in the revolt.
Near the spot where Bouazizi burned himself alive, residents have placed his picture over a statue erected under the old regime. Supporters have sprayed "The Martyr Mohamed Bouazizi Square" on a wall and called for the road to be named after him.
In the absence of clear leaders in Tunisia's uprising, Bouazizi has captured the imagination of millions and inspired copycat burnings in neighbouring Algeria, Mauritania and Egypt.
But it was his friends and family and the people of his home town that turned one angry man into thousands on the street.
In a country where the media was restricted and opposition parties restricted, local branches of trade unions first plucked up the courage to organise protests over the Gaza war in 2009.
"The fear had begun to melt away and we were a volcano that was going to explode. And when Bouazizi burnt himself, we were ready," said Attia Athmouni, a union leader and official of the opposition Progressive Democratic Party in Sidi Bouzid.
"Protesters demanded payback for the blood of Bouazizi and this developed into economic, social and political demands. We started calling for an end to corruption."
Bouazizi died of his burns on Jan. 4. Residents and family say thousands showed up for his funeral procession.
Athmouni was arrested for four days for his involvement in organising the protests, but when he was released he and other organisers stepped up contacts with residents in other towns.
Demonstrations spread across Sidi Bouzid province, and Athmani said groups of youths began to clash with police who fired tear gas at the crowds. Protesters hit back with stones.
An internet campaign called on fellow citizens and unions to set up committees to support the uprising in Sidi Bouzid. The first to respond was the lawyers' union, which went on strike.
"The unions got involved, teachers, lawyers, doctors, all sections of civil society, and set up a Popular Resistance Committee to back the people of Sidi Bouzid and back the uprising. The efforts meant the uprising continued for 10 days in Sidi Bouzid with no support," said Lazhar Gharbi, a head teacher and union member.
"As the protests spread, the headlines changed from bread to call for the removal of the head of state."
Tunisia's powerful main labour union held back in the early weeks but then swung behind the uprising and organised general strikes until Ben Ali fled on January 14.
Many Tunisians claim that Ben Ali took millions when he fled and that his wife, Leila, took kilos of gold with her.
Yet many in Sidi Bouzid say Ben Ali's ouster is not enough. They want the full dissolution of the ruling RCD party.
"For the Popular Resistance Committees, the issue today is that ... the revolution is at a crossroads," Gharbi said. "We want the revolution to continue to the end, to erase the remnants of the regime represented by the RCD."
The significance of the Tunisian uprising cannot be lost on leaders in other Arab countries accused of suppressing political freedoms, corruption and failing to create jobs.
"If you wanted to set up a company you could find all the graduates you need here: engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, all of them unemployed," said Rushdi Horchani, a distant cousin of Bouazizi.
"If you go to Sousse, which is the president's area, you would not find a graduate unemployed. It was all about corruption and bribes." (Editing by Andrew Roche)
President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali
President de la Republique
We issue this joint statement to protest the deteriorating situation of human rights in Tunisia and the escalating attacks on academics advocating democratic reforms and the rule of law. In recent months, government critics have faced markedly greater levels of violence at the hands of persons believed to be linked to security forces, suggesting a systematic campaign to silence all critical voices. As organizations devoted to educational issues and academic freedom, we are particularly alarmed by the assault against Tunisia's educators and intellectuals. We urge you to use your powers to curb the increasing use of violence exhibited in this campaign and to safeguard the international human rights embodied in international covenants that Tunisia has pledged to uphold.
Your Excellency, as Tunisia celebrates the 45th anniversary of its independence this week, its citizens increasingly seek to exercise their internationally recognized rights to free expression and free association. Speaking on the occasion of this anniversary, on March 20, you stated that Tunisia has "chosen democracy both as a principle and a practice." A central characteristic of a democracy is the ability of its citizens to receive and impart information freely about their own society, and independent academic and scholarly work are crucial to fostering this ability. When Tunisia acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it made a commitment to guarantee all individuals the "freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds." Yet independent thinkers who challenge your government's policies in a peaceful manner have suffered sharper and more violent responses when exercising these rights.
Over the last few weeks, to name but a few examples, unknown assailants have attacked journalist Jalel Zoghlami on February 3 and again on February 7, apparently because of his effort to publish an independent newspaper. On February 21, four representatives of the international human rights group Reporters Sans Frontiers who were trying to distribute copies of this newspaper (including the organization's secretary-general, Robert Menard) were attacked by a group of nearly twenty men; the NGO representatives were later expelled from the country. On February 22, Naziha Boudhib, a member of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD), was attacked by several men who forcibly took her documents chronicling the human rights situation in Tunisia.
Your Excellency, we are especially troubled by reports of two recent attacks against Prof. Khedija Cherif, a sociologist at the University of Tunis and a prominent advocate of women's rights. On March 1, Prof. Cherif was beaten, sexually harassed, and verbally abused as she was attempting to attend an informal meeting at the former headquarters of the CNLT in Tunis. Eyewitnesses identified her attackers as plainclothes police officers, and photographs taken during the attack seemed to identify one of the attackers as the chief of police of the Medina section of Tunis.
In the same incident, the assailants also attacked Prof. Abdel Kader Ben Khemis, a professor at the University of Sousse, and physically prevented him from attending the CNLT gathering. Several others attending the meeting, including Sihem Bensedrine, a prominent journalist and the CNLT's spokesperson, were also attacked. Ultimately the attackers succeeded in stopping the meeting from taking place. Prof. Cherif and Prof. Ben Khemis have filed complaints with the local prosecutor's office, but have not received any acknowledgement of or response to their case.
Prof. Cherif was attacked again on March 10 on the steps of the courthouse. An unidentified man in civilian clothes attacked Prof. Cherif and tried to take a dossier from her hands that contained the details of her complaint about the earlier attack she had suffered. When she resisted, the assailant pushed her to the ground, pried the dossier from her hands, and ran away.
We also remain concerned about the ongoing harassment of Prof. Moncef Marzouki, the CNLT's former spokesperson. Prof. Marzouki was arbitrarily blocked from leaving Tunisia on March 10. In December of 2000, he was sentenced to one year in jail on spurious charges of "belonging to an illegal organization" and "disseminating false information," stemming from his former activity with the CNLT. This sentence has been suspended pending appeal, and the relevant judicial authorities had indicated to his lawyers that he could leave the country. Prof. Marzouki was invited by the medical school at University of Paris VII to assume a two-year teaching position, beginning on April 1, after he was improperly dismissed last year from his position teaching public health at the University of Sousse. He has been prevented from teaching or publishing in Tunisia and therefore cannot earn a livelihood, and he is under constant surveillance and is only allowed intermittent telephone contact.
Your Excellency, we ask that you demonstrate your government's oft-repeated commitment to human rights by immediately initiating a thorough and objective judicial investigation into the assaults on Prof. Cherif and Prof. Ben Khemis. We also ask your government to halt the use of arbitrary judicial and administrative proceedings against its critics, among them Prof. Marzouki. Finally, we urge you to exercise your authority as the chief executive of the republic to rein in the security forces' campaign of violence and intimidation against academics and other critics of the government.
We look forward to receiving your comments, and we thank you in advance for your consideration of these important matters.
Dr. Yolanda Moses,
President, American Association for Higher Education
Co-Chair, Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee
"As Tunisia celebrates the 45th anniversary of its independence, its citizens are increasingly unable to exercise their internationally recognized rights to free expression and free association"
Academic Freedom Program Director of Human Rights Watch
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