Article 19 condemns violence in Tunisia and calls for lifting of the ban on protests
ARTICLE 19 calls for lifting of the blanket ban on all protests on the Habib Bourguiba Avenue of the Tunisian capital and for investigation into the heavy-handed tactics used by Tunisian security forces to disperse thousands of protestors – including journalists, unionist and civil society representatives – that were commemorating Martyrs’ Day on the Avenue on 9 April 2012.
Tuesday, 17 April 2012, by HRH Bergen, based on Article 19, CPJ information
On March 28 the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior announced a ban on “all demonstrations, marches and any other form of collective expression” on the Avenue, a focal point for protests in the capital. In defiance of the ban and amidst rising tensions fuelled by unemployment and growing political unrest, on Monday, 9 April demonstrators sought to reach the Avenue and were met by the police who used tear gas and truncheons.
According to eyewitness’ reports, several protestors, including journalists and human rights activists, have been dragged away by the security forces, but no information regarding their arrests has been provided. Similar violence was also reported during attempts made by thousands of unemployed graduates to march on the Avenue on Saturday 7 April.
“Protecting” local businesses
The ban on all marches on the Avenue reportedly came as a result of complaints made by local businesses, which highlighted the negative impact on tourism and traffic, although the Ministry of Interior has also cited safeguarding “public order” as a key factor for the ban. In a live televised interview broadcasted in the evening of 9 April on Tunisia 1 TV channel, President Moncef Marzouki condemned protests on the Avenue, praising the decision made by the Ministry of Interior. The President stated that places for demonstrations should now be designated, in order to limit disruption to local businesses’ activities. The President also added that the current government had been legitimately elected by the Tunisian people and that all those who were against the current government were therefore against the Tunisian people
Changes come slowly
“One year into the revolution - and some of the essential milestones for human rights protection are increasingly weakened. The indefinite ban of all protests on the Habib Bourguiba Avenue, symbol of the revolution, constitutes an illegitimate restriction on freedom of expression and assembly. The use of violence by security forces on the occasion of Martyrs' Day, on the very same Avenue which saw thousands take to the streets during the revolution, sends out another very wrong message about Tunisia’s ability to uphold fundamental freedoms and fully understand their scope and possible limits under international human rights law”, said Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.
ARTICLE 19 believes that the ban on all rallies on the Avenue is grossly disproportionate and clearly in breach of international standards protecting freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Under international standards, the right to freedom of expression and the right to assemble peacefully are the foundations of a functioning democracy. Enabling participation in peaceful assemblies helps to ensure that all people in a society have the opportunity to express opinions that they hold in common with others. While freedom of expression and freedom of assembly may be restricted for public order reasons, any such restriction can only be justified if it is proportionate to the aim pursued. If a less intrusive measure is capable of achieving the same purpose, then the least restrictive measure must be applied.
Banning all demonstrations in any public place that is suitable for holding assemblies constitutes a blanket legal restriction which tends to be overly inclusive and thus fails the proportionality test because no consideration has been given to the specific circumstances of each case. Furthermore, while a ban on demonstration or marches may be justified on public order grounds, especially in the immediate aftermath of an outbreak of violence, this justification loses its relevancy as time passes. For this reason, any ban on marches, political rallies and public meetings must be strictly limited in time, such as 24 or 48 hours.
ARTICLE 19 therefore calls on the Tunisian Ministry of Interior to immediately withdraw the blanket ban on demonstrations and marches on the Avenue and to immediately and effectively investigate into the violent crack-down on the demonstration on 9 April.
HRH Bergen, based on Article 19, CPJ information