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Tunisian lawyers strike in protest, alleging torture of arrested colleague

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May 16, 2024

Lawyers in Tunisia took to the streets on Thursday to protest a string of recent arrests that have convulsed the country over the past week and provoked international outcry.

The demonstration in the North African country’s capital came days after two lawyers were arrested — one brusquely extracted from the bar association headquarters and the other needing to be hospitalized after sustaining injuries while being apprehended by security forces.

Both were charged with violating a cybercrime statute outlawing fake news that authorities have increasingly used to target critics.

TENT CAMPS RAZED AND ACTIVISTS ARRESTED AS TUNISIA CLAMPS DOWN ON MIGRANTS

The National Bar Association called for nationwide strikes on Monday and staged a “day of anger” on Thursday that included protests and a second day of striking.

Along with activists and civil society groups, they gathered in front of the capital’s courthouse chanting for freedom, in support of their colleagues and against what they called “a police state.”

“We demand an apology from the authorities for the enormous blunders committed,” Bar Association President Hatem Mziou said, referring to the two arrests.

“We are fighting for a democratic climate and respect for freedoms,” Mziou added, threatening further action if authorities do not change course.

Protests about civil rights have been routine since President Kais Saied froze Tunisia’s parliament, consolidated his own power and fired top ministers in July 2021. But the speed and number of arrests this week — of the lawyers as well as journalists and prominent activists — have marked a new phase in his crackdown against dissidents.

The Bar Association said in a statement that Mehdi Zaghrouba, one of the lawyers arrested, was tortured and lost consciousness after being apprehended, leaving visible injuries throughout his body.

The government denied Zaghrouba had been tortured and said that the arrest had been carried out legally and without issue.

“Claiming torture is a way of evading justice” Interior Ministry spokesperson Faker Bouzghaya told IFM radio, a station where a journalist was also arrested this week.

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