Tunisia must 'immediately' shun violence against protesters: Amnesty
"Even when acts of vandalism and looting occur, law enforcement must only use force where absolutely necessary and proportionate," said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"Nothing gives security forces permission to deploy unnecessary and excessive force including when they are responding to acts of sporadic violence," Guellali added.
Two protesters interviewed by the rights group say that police on Monday attacked a peaceful demonstration in downtown Tunis with batons and tear gas and arrested human rights activist Hamza Nassri Jeridi, who had been protesting peacefully before being taken to police headquarters.
Online footage shows police beating and dragging individuals who were arrested and eyewitnesses have shared testimony indicating the ill treatment of people in custody, a press release from Amnesty said.
Guellali called on Tunisian authorities to immediately release Jeridi and other peaceful protesters, affirming that it was the duty of security forces to "uphold the rights of all people in their custody".
A total of 632 people have been arrested, according to Interior ministry Spokesman Khaled Hayouni.
He described them as "groups of people between the ages of 15, 20 and 25 who burned tyres and bins in order to block movement by the security forces".
The army has been deployed on city streets in response to clashes which broke out in mostly working-class neighborhood in cities across Tunisia late on Thursday – the day a nationwide lockdown was imposed to stem a rise in coronavirus infections.
The protests were triggered by a video circulated on social media showing Abdul Rahman Al-Othmani, a shepherd in Siliana province, being humiliated and beaten by a police officer after his sheep accidentally entered a government building.
The incident took place on the tenth anniversary of the fall from power of long-time dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and many people compared it to the beating of Mohammed Bouazizi by a policewoman in the town of Sidi Bouzid in December 2010.
Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest and his death sparked the demonstrations that led to Ben Ali’s toppling and the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions.
While the exact reasons for the current distubances are not clear, they come as many Tunisians remain angered by poor public services and a political class that repeatedly proved unable to govern coherently a decade on.
Read more: Tunisia arrests over 600, deploys troops after riots
GDP shrank by nine percent last year, consumer prices have spiralled and one third of young people are unemployed.
The key tourism sector, already on its knees after a string of deadly jihadist attacks in 2015, has been dealt a devastating blow by the pandemic