Police attacked journalists and clashed with protesters in a Martyrs' Day demonstration on Monday. (AFP/Fethi Belaid)
Police attacked journalists and clashed with protesters in a Martyrs' Day demonstration on Monday. (AFP/Fethi Belaid)

Police attack Tunisian journalists covering protest

New York, April 10, 2012–Tunisian authorities must immediately investigate attacks against journalists covering a Martyrs’ Day protest in the Tunisian capital on Monday, the first series of anti-press attacks that the Committee to Protect Journalists has documented in three months, CPJ said today.

Security forces dispersed the Martyrs’ Day demonstration by using tear gas and batons against protesters and journalists who were covering the protest, news reports said. The demonstrators were protesting last week’s ban against protests in the city center and voiced their opposition to the new government dominated by Al-Nahda, the Islamist party that won the October elections, news reports said. Martyrs’ Day commemorates the 1938 episode when French troops opened fire on Tunis protesters calling for a constitution.

“We are deeply troubled that journalists are still being beaten for doing their job more than a year after the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Authorities must immediately investigate these attacks on journalists and ensure the press is free to report without fear of reprisal.”

Fatma Riahi, a blogger who writes on her own site Arabicca and also works for the private broadcaster Nessma TV, was beaten by security forces and taken to the hospital for fractures to her hand and shoulder, she said in a video interview, according to news reports. Police also beat Zohra Abid, a reporter for the French-language Tunisian news website Kapitalis, on the neck as she covered an area of the protest near the Tunisian Interior Ministry, news reports said

Julie Schneider, a reporter for the Paris-based weekly magazine Le Point, was taking pictures of the demonstration when unknown assailants pushed her to the ground and beat her, she told Le Point. She said the assailants tried to confiscate her camera and then dragged her into a police van where she was detained for a short period.

Another Nessma TV reporter, Sofiene Chourabi, told news website Tunisia Live that he was beaten by police, who tried to confiscate his camera. A police officer also threatened Bassem Aounallah, a cameraman for Tunisia Live, while the journalist filmed police beating protesters, Tunisia Live reported.

News accounts reported that Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki had condemned Monday’s violence but said the protesters had violated the ban on demonstrating on Habib Bourgiba Avenue. Monday’s events marked the worst violence seen in the country since the fall of Ben Ali’s regime in January 2011, news reports said.

CPJ has documented other anti-press violations in Tunisia since the regime’s ouster. In January, CPJ documented assaults on three journalists who were covering demonstrations in Tunis.