Tunisian authorities urged to release or charge detainees

By staff writers
January 17, 2011

Two men have been arrested in Tunisia after one of them gave media interviews about the ongoing protests. Amnesty International has called upon the Tunisian authorities to either release them or to promptly bring charges.

Hamma Hammami, a spokesperson for the banned Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party was arrested at his home in Tunis on 12 January 2011. His colleague, Mohamed Mzem, a lawyer, was also arrested, as was Mounia Obaid, a friend who was later released.

Hamma Hammami’s family believe he was arrested for speaking to journalists about the protests in the country.

Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said: “The Tunisian authorities must release Hamma Hammami and Mohamed Mzem unless they are to be promptly charged with recognisable criminal offences, and guaranteed fair trials.

“The authorities must immediately disclose the whereabouts of Hamma Hammami and Mohamed Mzem and allow them access to their families and lawyers of their choice.

“Currently, we do not know where these two men are being held, heightening concern that they could be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.”

Hamma Hammami was physically assaulted by men believed to be plain-clothes police officers in September 2009 when he flew into Tunis airport after a trip to France during which he criticised the Tunisian government in interviews with Al Jazeera, Mubasher and France 24. He went into hiding in October 2009 after he was summoned by the criminal police, fearing he would be arbitrarily arrested, and only recently returned to public life. His wife and children have also been harassed by security officers.

Tunisia's president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, fled to Saudi Arabia on 15 January after protests over corruption, unemployment and rises in the price of food escalated into rallies against his government.

The protests began in mid-December after an unemployed graduate set himself on fire when police tried to prevent him from selling vegetables without a permit. He died in early January.

The demonstrations came to a head on 14 January as crowds gathered outside the interior ministry and the police responded with tear-gas grenades

The Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi briefly took over as interim president before the speaker of the parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, took the oath of office, promising to form a unity government.


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