Tunisia: Right to protest must be protected

Tunisia: Right to protest must be protected - Civic Space

A helicopter flies above an anti-government demonstration on 19 January 2011 days after mass protests forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee into exile following 23 years of tyranical rule. Tensions remained high and when Prime Minister Ghannouchi formed a government of national unity protests continued as the people demanded a clean break with the past.

Demonstrations in favour of dignity and employment were held in Kasserine after an unemployed man – Ridha Yahyaoui – had taken his own life there. These protests then spread to a further 15 states. Some protest actions were met with a police reaction, which the authorities claimed was necessary to quell violent attacks.

A curfew has also been re-imposed, as of today, 22 January. 

ARTICLE 19 calls for the protection of the right of the individuals to express their opinions and demands through demonstrations and protest actions.

“The reimposition of the curfew announced today by the government is a step in the wrong direction, which limits the right to protest, protected by the Constitution and international human rights standards,”affirmed Saloua Ghazouani, Director of ARTICLE 19 – Tunisia.

The Tunisian government is under a positive obligation to ensure that people are able to exercise their right to protest. Protection of public order may only be invoked as a reason to restrict this right when protesters threaten the very functioning of society, or the fundamental principles on which society is based, such as respect for human rights or the rule of law.

“Non-violent protests, including spontaneous, simultaneous and counter-protests, must be considered an essential characteristic of public order and not as a de facto danger to it, even when a protest causes inconvenience or disturbance,” Ghazouani stated. “The authorities must respect and ensure the people’s right to protest, and any security force intervention must be limited to what is strictly necessary to maintain public order.”