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Tunisia lawyers strike, protest against police abuse

May 16, 2024 at 2:00 pm

President of the Tunisian Lawyers’ Bar Hatem Miziou (C) speaks in front of the courthouse in Tunis on May 16, 2024, during a demonstration by lawyers against the country’s president following the recent arrests of colleagues. [FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images]

Tunisian lawyers began a one-day nationwide strike today, with hundreds taking to the streets of the capital to protest against the recent arrest of two of their colleagues, one of whom they say was tortured during his detention, Reuters reports.

This is the second time this week Tunisian lawyers have staged a strike amid an escalation of the political crisis in the country following the arrest of two lawyers and two journalists last week in separate incidents.

Hundreds of opponents to President Kais Saied protested last week, demanding a date for free and fair elections. Saied, whose term ends this year, took over most state powers and shut down the elected parliament in 2021 in a move the opposition called a coup.

Tunisian police stormed the bar association’s headquarters on Monday for the second time in two days and arrested Mahdi Zagrouba, who has criticised the president, after detaining Sonia Dahmani, another lawyer, over the weekend.

Some opposition parties described the storming of the Deanship of Lawyers’ building as “a shock and major escalation”.

The bar association and human rights groups said that Zagrouba was tortured during his detention and that he was suffering from severe bruises and traces of violence.

The Interior Ministry strongly denied the allegations and said that the lawyer was not subjected to any ill-treatment or torture.

“We categorically deny that the lawyer was subjected to torture or ill-treatment. It is a scenario to escape responsibility after it was proven that he assaulted a policeman during a protest this week,” ministry official Fakher Bouzghaia said.

Hundreds of lawyers gathered near the headquarters of the Palace of Justice, wearing uniforms and chanting slogans such as “take your hands off journalists and lawyers” and “No fear, no terror. Power belongs to the people.”

Supporting their colleague Zaqrouba, the lawyers chanted “Mahdi never mind, freedoms are redeemed with blood.”

A Tunisian judge yesterday ordered the imprisonment of two journalists pending trial, their families and lawyers said, reinforcing fears of a widespread campaign aimed at silencing dissent and curbing free speech.

IFM radio journalists Mourad Zghidi and Borhen Bsaiss were detained on Saturday over political comments made on the radio, their lawyers said.

Read: EU asks Tunisia for clarification over arrests of journalists and activists