Police arrest leading gay activist in crackdown on Tunisia rally | Protests News

Tunis, Tunisia – Police have arrested a leading gay rights campaigner in a violent attack against young people during a protest against an upcoming referendum on a newly approved constitution. proposed by the President of Tunisia.

Police violently shoved protesters who marched on Friday in a light but peaceful demonstration as they headed towards the Interior Ministry in the heart of Tunis to demonstrate against the newly enacted constitution President Kais Saied and demanded an end to the referendum process.

Al Jazeera witnessed other violent beatings and abuses by protesters, and also witnessed police use of pepper spray.

President Saied announced his new draft constitution late last month, ahead of a referendum scheduled for July 25, where the Tunisian people will vote to accept or reject the document.

July 25 marked a year since Saied sacked Tunisia’s prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive power, citing a national emergency in a move critics have called an island. main.

Two months later, he announced he would rule by decree, and dismantled many of the country’s democratic state institutions including the superior Judiciary Council. In June, he Fired Dozens of judges accused them of corruption and “terrorism”, further cementing his power.

Clashes between protesters and police in Tunis
Police clash with protesters who accuse President Kais Saied of taking power and fear the new constitution will lead to dictatorship [Fethi Belaid/AFP]

Saied says he has taken special measures to save the country from imminent danger, but his critics say his actions only exacerbate the economic and political crisis. that the Tunisian people are facing amid high inflation and unemployment, and declining public services.

‘I am very angry’

On Friday, police filed several charges of aggression against a relatively small, albeit vocal, group of protesters.

In attacking the protesters, they attacked leftist Popular Front leader Hama Hemami, a female journalist was slapped while trying to take a picture of police arresting a protester and Al Jazeera witnessed ​many people suffer the painful consequences of asphyxiation and pepper spray.

Police pulled the protesters to the ground as they arrested them, and kept them in a state of tension as they proceeded with some of them going.

Among those arrested was Saif Ayadi, a leading LGBTQI+ activist. Avocats sans Frontiers told Al Jazeera he is currently being held at the Gorjani detention center but ASF says they are concerned for his safety as he has previously been arrested and beaten by police.

Riot police pushed back the crowd with their shields before fellow officers attacked forcefully against the mob that was chasing protesters down the side streets.

Khalil Ayari, a 23-year-old nursing student, told Al Jazeera: “I saw 10 people arrested, and (they) were just protesting peacefully. I saw them attack a girl, they pulled her arm so hard I could see the bruises coming out.”

Ayari said he took to the streets out of anger at the president’s actions.

“I was very angry,” he said. “I read the constitution, it’s just about the president, it’s all because of him, he’s going to make all the decisions and take everything.”

He added: “After today, I no longer feel safe in Tunisia.”

Under new constitutionSaied will be able to continue to rule by decree until a new parliament is formed after an election is set for December. He will also have supreme power over the government and the judiciary, with the government answering the president, not the congress.

Protesters and police jostled at barricades erected in Tunis with an officer pepper sprayed in their faces
A Tunisian police officer sprays tear gas at a protester trying to remove metal barriers during Friday’s demonstration against the proposed new constitution. [Fethi Belaid/AFP]

The face of Ayla Salemi, who works in the civil society organization, turns red after being pepper sprayed.

“The police yelled and asked us to go home, then they rushed at us,” she told Al Jazeera. “They beat female activist Waen Nawal with sticks and used pepper spray on me and others.”

The 35-year-old girl tries to catch her breath. “I’m against what happened last year in congress, but I’m also against this president, things are much worse now than they were before.”

For many young people, Saied’s actions were a betrayal.

“We are against Saied’s constitution because it will lead us to dictatorship, we cannot tolerate this; We are here to say no! ‘ 23-year-old law student Malak Ben Amane told Al Jazeera.

Halfway through the interview, a policeman came and scolded Ben Amane, but she stood coldly and refused to move. As the officer left, she said: “This violence is not unusual, it happens every day, this is the state of the police.”

Until Friday, the protests against the president were mainly attended by middle-aged people, but young people are now also against him.

“Yes, we are very depressed, but we are here to defend our revolution and our democracy, so I will march again tomorrow,” said Ben Amane.

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