Reporters Without Borders condemns the police violence to which at least 15 journalists were subjected while covering the three days of demonstrations in the capital that began on 5 May. Making no attempt to distinguish between protesters and media personnel, the police roughed up reporters, carried out arrests and confiscated or smashed equipment.
“The use violence against journalists by the police in recent days is like a bad memory,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “It is as if the old methods were back just four months after President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s fall. We urge the transitional government to investigate these incidents and to give the security forces clear orders to put a stop to such practices.”
Dozens of journalist took to the streets of Tunis yesterday in response to an appeal by the National Union of Tunisian Journalists to defend press freedom and prevent any return to the practices of the past. The union said the aim of the violence by the police was to prevent the media doing their job and deny the public’s right to information.
One of the worst cases of violence involved Abdelfattah Belaid, an Agence France-Presse correspondent and reporter for the French-language daily La Presse. Police chased him into the headquarters of his newspaper on 6 May, beat him over the head with a metal bar and seized his two cameras and laptop.
Radio Kalima reporter Marwa Rekik had to be hospitalized after being attacked and beaten over the head by police officers while covering a demonstration on the capital’s Bourguiba Avenue on 5 May.
Reuters photographer Zoubeir Souissi told Agence France-Presse that, after ordering him to stop take photos, police officers kicked and clubbed him repeatedly and one of them took his camera. He said he had to bribe the officer in order to recover his camera.
The Union of Journalists said the following journalists had also been the victims of police violence:
- Mohamed El-Hammi of the European Photo Agency
- Hassan Dridi of the Associated Press
- Hamza Elaouini of the TV news agency
- Lofti Hajji, Mohamed Amin Ben Nejma and Anass Ben Salah of Al-Jazeera
- Chaffya Ibrahim of the Arabic-language newspaper Echourouk
- Houssem Hamed of the privately-owned Tunisian radio station Chems FM
- Nizar Elhajbi of the French-language daily La Presse
- Ahmed Elfouli and Monia Abdallah of Hannibal TV
- Massoud Kawach of the Arabic-language newspaper El-Sahafa
The interior ministry apologized on the evening of 6 May “to the journalists and citizens who had been unintentionally attacked.” AFP quoted a government source as saying some of the police officers who had attacked journalists had been identified.
Reporters Without Borders also calls on the authorities to explain the blocking of Jalel Brick’s Facebook profile since 7 May and the legal grounds given for the measure, which mention a military court.
Anyone trying to reach the page from within Tunisia gets this message: “This web page has been filtered under an order from an investigating judge attached to the Tunis Permanent Military Tribunal - Tunisian Internet Agency - © 2011.” The https version of his profile is still accessible: https://www.facebook.com/jalel.brick.
06.05.2011 - Journalists beaten by police in central Tunis
Reporter Abdelfattah Belaid was brutally attacked in Tunis today by police officers who pursued him into the headquarters of his newspaper, the French-language daily La Presse, after spotting him taking pictures of them dispersing protesters in the street outside. He was the second journalist to be beaten by police in Tunis in the past 24 hours.
Belaid was photographing police officers using force to disperse demonstrators on Bourguiba Avenue when three police noticed him and set off in pursuit. They pursued him right inside the newspaper’s building, located 50 metres away, finally catching him on the third floor, where they beat him over the head with a metal bar before leaving with his cameras and shoes.
He was taken to a hospital to be examined with a scanner.
La Presse editor Sofiane Ben Farhat told Reporters Without Borders: “We are shocked by what happened to our colleague. I oppose such practices, which date back to another era. Chasing journalists is not the message that should be sent in the days following World Press Freedom Day. We have asked the Union of Journalists to contact the authorities and get this stopped.”
Radio Kalima reporter Marwa Rekik was attacked and beaten over the head by police officers while covering a demonstration on Bourguiba Avenue late yesterday afternoon. She had to be hospitalized.
Tunis has been in turmoil and rocked by protests since the broadcasting of controversial comments by former interior minister Farhat Rajhi, known as “Mr. Clean,” on the evening of 4 May. In his comments, which he says were filmed without his knowledge, he talked about his removal from the government and the appointment of members of Ben Ali’s RCD party as governors against his will.
“Ever since then, there has been a lot of tension within the police,” La Presse editor Farhat told Reporters Without Borders. “And we have seen that the methods they use with journalist have become much tougher.”