Tunisia: Protestors and Bystanders Shot from Behind by Tunisian Security Forces

Press Release
January 27, 2011

Tunisia: Protestors and Bystanders Shot from Behind by Tunisian Security Forces

Amnesty International Press Release
For Immediate Release
Thursday, January 27, 2011

Amnesty International Reveals Security Forces in Tunisia Shot at Protesters from Behind as They Fled

Doctors Testimony Show Others Killed by Single Shots Suggesting Deliberate Intent to Kill

(London) -- Amnesty International today revealed disturbing new evidence of the brutal methods used by Tunisian security forces to stop anti-government protests, including doctors’ testimonies that demonstrators were shot from behind and others felled by single shots suggesting deliberate intent to kill.

An Amnesty International research team returning from Tunisia found that security forces used disproportionate force to disperse protesters and in some cases fired on fleeing protesters and bystanders.

Doctors’ testimonies seen by the Amnesty International research team show that some protesters in Kasserine and Thala were shot from behind, indicating that they were fleeing. Others in Kasserine, Thala, Tunis and Regueb were killed by single shots to the chest or head, suggesting deliberate intent to kill.

“This shocking evidence confirms that the Tunisian security forces were using lethal methods to quell discontent and to deter protesters,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East North Africa Program.

“The fact that some of those killed were clearly running away shows flagrant disregard for the people’s lives. It must be an urgent priority for the authorities to ensure that those under their command show restraint and respect for public safety.”

The organization also found evidence that many of those arrested in connection with the unrest were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in custody. Detainees were beaten with batons or kicked, while others were forced to kneel facing walls for hours.

The research team found that while some protesters acted violently, security forces used disproportionate force to disperse protesters and resorted to lethal force when it was not strictly necessary. Tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition were widely used even when protesters were peaceful, and protesters were beaten with batons.

Witnesses told Amnesty International that some of those killed could not have possibly posed a threat to the lives of security forces. Other victims were not involved in the protests at all.

Manal Bou’alagi, 26, the mother of two, was shot in the chest on January 9 in the city of Regueb in central Tunisia as she returned home from visiting her mother. A doctor who examined her told Amnesty International that the angle of her bullet wounds suggested she was shot by a sniper from a nearby building.

Manal's mother, Chadia, is determined to see justice: “I have lost a daughter and my grandchildren have been orphaned. I want the people responsible for Manal's killing to face real justice for what they have done to us.”

A 21-year-old man who wished to remain anonymous told Amnesty International that after he was arrested in Tunis on January 14, he was detained in the Ministry of Interior with 30 others, including 10 young women.

He told an Amnesty International researcher that security forces beat him with batons all over his body. He was eventually released without charge but was warned not to take part in any more protests. Former president Ben Ali had by this time already left the country.

Amnesty International has welcomed the caretaker government’s announcement of an independent commission to investigate human rights violations committed by the security forces during recent weeks.

But the organizationcalled this week in a “Human Rights Agenda for Change” document for other urgent and far-reaching action by the authorities, including fundamentally overhauling the country's repressive security apparatus and justice system.

“The families of those killed must have access to justice, which can only be achieved by a proper investigation with the power to compel officials to testify," said Sahraoui.

“In the meantime, any official reasonably suspected of human rights violations should be suspended from duties. Tunisians need to see that the culture of abuse is a thing of the past.”

Background

An Amnesty International delegation visited Tunisia from January 14-22, meeting with families of those killed in the unrest, individuals injured during protests, other witnesses, and former detainees, as well as lawyers, human rights defenders, unionists and medical professionals. Researchers travelled to Hammamat, Bizerte, Regueb, Thala and Kasserine. The majority of the cases documented in this report took place between January 8 and 13. The full report detailing their mission will be released in February.

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

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