Masked plainclothes police officers take away an alleged rioter on a motorbike during clashes in Tunis. (AP/Chokri Mahjoub)
Masked plainclothes police officers take away an alleged rioter on a motorbike during clashes in Tunis. (AP/Chokri Mahjoub)

More than a dozen journalists assaulted in Tunisia

New York, May 9, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Tunisian authorities today to restrain from attacking journalists reporting on anti-government demonstrations after plainclothes police physically assaulted 15 local and international journalists on Friday.

Demonstrators in Tunis mounted on Thursday and Friday what Agence France-Presse described as the largest anti-government demonstrations since former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down from power on January 14. The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists, which condemned the attack in a press release, said that “scores of plainclothes police brutally beat the journalists, in spite of knowing that they were in fact journalists, and destroyed their cameras, chasing them all the way to the entrance” of the French-language daily La Presse. The Interior Ministry apologized to journalists on Saturday, vowing to launch an internal investigation into the incident, local and international media reported. AFP, quoting La Presse, said that the Interior Ministry had “identified security officers responsible for attacking 15 journalists covering their crackdown on protests on Friday.”

“It is unfortunate to see Tunisian police revert to their old repressive ways,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “It is not enough for the interior ministry to apologize to journalists and identify the offending officers; a credible investigation must hold accountable all those found to have violated the law by physically assaulting journalists.”

Among the journalists who were assaulted were Abdelfattah Belaid, who works for La Presse and AFP. Belaid tried to run after officers began chasing him after he took pictures of the violent dispersal of demonstrators. Police chased him into the building housing La Presse and beat him with a metal rod and took his camera, local media reported. Also among the journalists beaten were The Associated Press’ Hassan Duraidi, three Al-Jazeera journalists, and Radio Kalima’s Marwa al-Raqiq, local and regional media reported. Al-Raqiq was injured and required hospitalization, Radio Kalima said on its website.