Tunisia: Popular revolutionary activist and photographer arrested

Hundreds rally to demand their release

Yesterday, Tuesday 13 May, the ‘El Hambra’ theatre in Tunis was the site of a gathering of some 300 activists, young people and human rights’ campaigners.

They were there to protest against the arrest on Monday night of the blogger and activist, Azyz Amami, and of his friend, the photographer Sabri Ben Mlouka. They were arrested at the port of La Goulette, in the north of Tunis. The police forced the pair to get out of a car and to kneel down with their hands on their heads. They were then subjected to a humiliating body search, something prohibited by the law, as explained by their lawyers during the protest rally yesterday.

The police claimed that Azyz and Sabri had 700 grams of cannabis on their possesion. But the charge of possession or use of cannabis is a notorious tactic dating back from the Ben Ali dictatorship days, and commonly used by the police as a cover for political arrests.

Azyz’s father, who visited his son in the Gorjani detention centre, in Tunis, was able to confirm that his son had bruises on the face and body, indicating that he was beaten by the police.

A few days ago, Azyz Amami was a guest on a TV talk-show discussing a campaign called, “I too burned a police station”. This campaign defends youth arrested under spurious and often fabricated charges, such as drug use, or vandalism of police stations during the revolutionary movement that brought down Ben Ali.

During this show, Azyz referred to a list of 50 people accused of setting fire to a police station in 2010-201. He pointed out that those who helped to bring down the dictatorship are now called to appear before the law.

Azyz revealed that videos are being posted on social network sites that show three police officers burning the La Goulette police station on 14 January 2011. Is the arrest of Azyz a revengeful act by the La Goulette police, who could not stand the fact that Azyz “refreshed the memory” of the Tunisian people on this particular episode? Azyz is a popular symbol of the revolution, and a disturbing voice for the current regime. Many within the state apparatus have long dreamt of silencing him.

After the rally held at the El Hambra theatre, which included speeches by Azyz’s father, and lawyers and activists, those present, including a group of CWI supporters, began a protest march towards the Ministry of the Interior in downtown Tunis. They defiantly shouted, “Ministry of Interior, Ministry of terror”.

The CWI supporting group in Tunisia joins its voice to the growing calls demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Azyz and Sabri, and supports the broadest possible mobilization to this end, as well as to scrap once and for all the hated law 52*. We also encourage all those who can to bombard the Tunisian Ministry of Justice with letters of protest, to the following email address: mju@ministeres.tn, with copy to cwi@worldsoc.co.uk. (see a sample letter of protest at the bottom of this article).

Today Azyz and Sabrik are the targets but who will be next? A lack of a response to these arrests would give the system confidence to go further in its attempts to repress opponents. With the coming wave of austerity onslaught that is being prepared by the pro-capitalist Jomaa government, the ruling class and its state apparatus know that they are not immune to a huge popular reaction. They have good reason to want to ‘neutralise’ those who symbolise resistance to oppression and exploitation.

That is why the necessary struggle for the defence of democratic rights must be linked to a broader struggle, tirelessly mobilizing and organizing the mass of the country’s workers, unemployed and youth, for the continuation and the victory of all the objectives of the revolution.

  • Stop arbitrary arrests, stop the judicial and police harassment of political and trade union activists!
  • Defence of all democratic rights! No to police brutality! Not to the law 52*! No to the return of the old regime’s practices!
  • Immediate and unconditional release of Azyz Amami and Sabri Ben Mlouka, and of all political prisoners
  • No to austerity – no to the payment of the debt, not to the misery plans concocted by Jomaa and the international capitalist institutions
  • For the urgent reconstruction of a broad revolutionary front, on a militant and socialist basis

*In 1989, an anti-narcotic law was introduced at the request of Ben Ali. This legislation, known as the law 52, has been exploited for long by those in power to silence opponents, leftists, artists, bloggers and others, who are generally imprisoned for one year and subjected to a fine of 1,000 Tunisian dinars (=about 500 euros).

Model Protest letter:

To the Minister of Justice of Tunisia.

We have learnt of the arrest, on Monday night, of Azyz Amami and Sabri Ben Mlouka. This arrest was made under the guise of cannabis use, although everyone knows very well that this arrest responds to totally different motives; Azyz being a well-known figure of the Tunisian revolutionary movement. We were also informed that those arrested have been violently abused by the police.

These two people have never done anything else other than exercise their right to freedom of expression, a reason apparently sufficient and increasingly common in Tunisia to suffer the wrath of the police and the judiciary system.

We strongly condemn these arrests, and demand the immediate release of the two concerned, as well as the complete withdrawal of the charges against them.

You can rest assured that our solidarity and international outrage will not falter as long as they are not being released, and more broadly, as long as repression continues to ravage Tunisia.

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May 2014