Four men arrested following clashes with security forces in northern Tunisia are set to face trial before a Tunis military court.
The four men – Ayman Gharib, Anis el-Krifi, Walid Boujbali and Haitham el-Mejri –were arrested on 19 July during raids in the northern town of Menzel Bourguiba. Three days earlier, a protest in the town ended in violent clashes with security forces.
The men have been charged with creating or leading armed groups, inciting violence, and “assault with the intention of changing the government,” offences punishable by the death penalty under Tunisian law.
Eight other men believed to be on the run have also been referred to Tunis Military Court in the same case in connection to the events of 16 July and will be tried in absentia.
“Civilians should never face trial before a military court. If these men have committed a recognizable criminal offence, the Tunisian authorities must ensure they are referred to a civilian court to be tried in line with international fair trial standards,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“If convicted, they must not be sentenced to death.”
“A full, independent investigation must be carried out to determine the course of events that led to clashes and subsequent arrests.”
The four defendants were among a number arrested following the clashes in Menzel Bourguiba on 16 July, during which a police station and police car were reportedly set on fire. All of the others arrested have since been released. Many of those who were released were said to have traces of beatings and violence.
The case has been referred to a military court because three security officers submitted medical reports claiming they were injured during the 16 July events. Tunisian law allows for civilians to be tried by military tribunals for ordinary criminal offences when a member of the military is involved and for offences committed in military areas, as well as offences related to terrorism or that threaten the country’s internal or external security.
According to one of the lawyers for the accused men, the charges were fabricated, and there are no witnesses to place the four men at the scene of the demonstration in Menzel Bourguiba. Two witnesses claim that one of the accused was inside a mosque throughout the clashes.
Tensions escalated in several Tunisian cities and towns in mid-July following the forcible dispersal of a sit-in at the Kasbah in the capital Tunis on 15 July.
Tunisian security forces responded to last month’s renewed demonstrations in the central town of Sidi Bouzid by using live ammunition to disperse protesters which led to the death of a 13-year-old boy.
More than 300 protesters died and many more were arrested following demonstrations that began in Sidi Bouzid last December, before spreading quickly around Tunisia and inspiring protests across the Middle East and North Africa.
Demonstrations in the Tadamon area of Tunis also led to violent clashes between protesters and security officers and several men were also arrested during house raids. Curfews were put in place in Menzel Bourguiba and Sidi Bouzid which have now been lifted.
The Tunisian government renewed the state of emergency on 1 August, despite the Ministry of National Defence earlier stating that order had been restored to all parts of the country.