Tunisia: Fleeing Protestors and Bystanders Were Shot Dead by Security Forces

Press Release
March 1, 2011

Tunisia: Fleeing Protestors and Bystanders Were Shot Dead by Security Forces

Amnesty International Press Release
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Amnesty International Report on Tunisia Uprising Documents “Reckless Disregard” for Human
Life, as Fleeing Protesters and Bystanders Were Shot Dead by Security Forces

Organization Calls for Truth and Accountability for Unlawful Killings and New Era “Where Nobody is Above the Law”

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

(New York) – Tunisia’s security forces shot at bystanders, protesters who were fleeing and others who posed no threat in “reckless disregard” for human life during the December-January uprising, Amnesty International disclosed today in a report that calls for truth and accountability for the unlawful killings by the new government.

Amnesty International, releasing the human rights report at a press conference in the capital city of Tunis – the first time it has ever done so -- called for immediate independent investigations of the unlawful killings and acts of brutality by security forces during the protests that led to the fall of former President Ben Ali.

People detained by the security forces were also systematically beaten or subjected to other ill-treatment, according to the 46-page report, Tunisia in Revolt: State Violence during Anti Government Protests prepared by an Amnesty International fact-finding team in Tunisia during January.

“After the long years of repression under President Ben Ali, the Tunisian authorities must now rein in the security forces and instill a culture of human rights within the police force, in particular,” said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program.

“The authorities must make it clear in both law and in practice that nobody is above the law. They must show that those responsible for unlawful killings, excessive force, torture or other abuses are held fully to account.”

Smart said: “The security forces acted with reckless disregard for human life in all too many cases.”

Smart said bringing those responsible for unlawful killings to justice would be the first step toward “turning the page on the long years of abuses under the former president.Such investigations must provide Tunisians with the truth, and the victims with both justice and reparation.”

Ghassan Chniti, 19, a seasonal worker, was fatally shot as he ran away from police in the small city of Thala in central Tunisia, youths who were with him said.

A doctor confirmed he was shot from behind after examining his corpse at Kasserine Hospital.

Chniti was one of five people killed by live ammunition in Thala on January 8 as skirmishes broke out between protesters and police.

His father told Amnesty International: “My son worked and got paid about 150 dinars a month [$96 U.S. dollars] to help out the whole family. He went to participate in the protest…Our income is not enough to feed the family.”

Malek Habbachi, 24, who had recently become engaged, was killed by a single bullet to his neck on the evening of January 12 in the Tadhamoun neighborhood, one of the largest and poorest suburbs of Tunis. He was shot by a sniper, eyewitnesses said.

Riot police wielding batons hit Malek’s brother, Youssri in the head, back and legs as he tried to carry Malek home.

Malek Habbachi’s father said that he had joined the protests to call for better life opportunities: “All Tunisian people refuse to accept their living conditions. Malek was fighting against corruption.”

Malek Habbachi’s sister, who is studying law, told Amnesty International researchers: “We want justice,” a call echoed by most victims’ families.

New incidents of violence took place on February 5 when security forces in the city of Kef opened fire on protesters calling for the resignation of the local police chief whom they accused of abusing power.

Police shot dead two people among protesters who they said were trying to break into the police station.

Background

In January, Amnesty International researchers met with the families of those killed in the unrest, individuals injured during protests, other witnesses, and former detainees, as well as lawyers, human rights defenders, trade unionists and medical professionals. Researchers travelled to Hammamat, Bizerte, Regueb, Thala and Kasserine.

The current caretaker government says that 78 people died during the protests, with a further 100 injured. Tunisian human rights organizations say the real death toll was greater and the U.N. has placed the number at 147, in addition to the 72 people who died in prison in incidents linked to the unrest. Most of the killings are believed to have been committed by the Public Order Brigade.

Amnesty International on January 24 released Tunisia: Human Rights Agenda for Change, calling on the Tunisian authorities to make fundamental and lasting reforms and to break with Ben Ali's decades long legacy of abuse.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

For more information, please visit: http://www.amnestyusa.org