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Journalists attacked by police while filming union protest

(RSF/IFEX) - 1 March 2012 - Reporters Without Borders condemns the attacks on journalists by police when the media were filming the police force's use of violence and tear-gas to disperse a demonstration organized by the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) in Tunis on 25 February.

“The way the police insulted journalists and the brutality with which they dealt with some of them signals a clear return to the use of police violence against the media,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“The only explanation for this behaviour by the police was their fear of seeing photos and video of their utterly unjustified actions in the media. This renewed outbreak of tension between police and journalists is very worrying. Something must be done to defuse it, or else such scenes will recur.”

In a press release last week, Reporters Without Borders voiced concern about recent statements by certain government officials that could be seen in some quarters as justifying the increasingly frequent verbal and physical attacks on journalists. Their statements could even be seen as encouraging the scapegoating of journalists.

Reporters Without Borders is aware of seven attacks on journalists during the events on the afternoon of 25 February:

- Aymen Rezgui, the news editor of the Al-Hiwar Ettounsi TV station and a member of the executive committee of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), was insulted and then beaten by uniformed and plainclothes police outside the interior ministry after he showed them his press card and they learned that he was an SNJT member. He still bears the marks of the blows he received from the batons they used.

- Zouhair Zouidi of Attariq Al-Jedid was hit in the face and back by uniformed and plainclothes police outside the interior ministry although he had shown his press card.

- Mouna Bouazizi of the daily Ech Chourouq was insulted and jostled by a police officer as she was about to photograph the violence outside the building that houses the Dar Al-Anwar media company. She was with Shems FM reporter Ahlem Abdelli, who was also insulted by the policeman.

- Radio Kalima reporter Ali Jallali was filming police violence when a police officer threw him to the ground and hit him twice with a baton although he was wearing a “Press” armband. The policeman said he should have been filming demonstrators attacking the police rather than the other way round.

- Internet activist Arwa Baraket was filming the UGTT demonstration when the police began to charge the crowd. The police attacked her, insulted her and repeatedly beat her, breaking one of her arms.

- Nessma TV cameraman Amin Ayachi was surrounded and beaten by policemen outside the Claridge Centre on Bourguiba Avenue. They broke his lens and demanded that he erase all the footage he had just shot, going so far as to summon a member of the information technology police to verify this.

The SNJT quickly convened a demonstration for 27 February, asking journalists to take a united stand against this return to the police violence of the past. The interior ministry, for its part, issued a formal apology. The ministry's spokesman told Reporters Without Borders that a “serious” investigation was under way and that “the results will be made public as soon as possible.”

Reporters Without Borders said: “An example must be made of the police officers involved in this violence if the interior ministry wants to prevent the entire law enforcement apparatus from being discredited.”

When some 15 journalists were injured in the violence used to disperse demonstrations on 5 and 7 May 2011, then interior minister Farhat Rajhi reacted by saying the police needed to be able to identify the media. Nonetheless, wearing “Press” vests and armbands and showing press cards failed to prevent reporters from being attacked by police officers on 25 February.

Reporters Without Borders hopes that the announcement of an internal investigation is more than just another attempt to appease public opinion. The authorities also announced an internal investigation after police attacked Sana Farat of the newspaper Le Temps and Maha Ouelhezi of the Web Manager Centre online newspaper outside the higher education ministry on 4 January. The findings have yet to be released.

Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to quickly start providing the police with training in respectful treatment of the public and journalists who are doing their work. Round tables and meetings between police and journalists' representatives should also be organized.

Click here to read the Arabic version.

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