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Hamza Nasri: A new chapter in the intimidation of human rights defenders

2 February 2022

The undersigned organizations condemn the prison sentence of the queer activist and human rights defender Hamza Nasri after his participation in a peaceful march dating back to 18 January 2021. The court of First Instance of Tunis sentenced him to three months of prison in the case of assaulting a public official by words and gestures under the provisions of article125 of the Tunisian Penal Code.

Tunisia witnessed massive protests in January 2021 in light of the country’s economic and political circumstances. During these protests, numerous human rights violations were committed by security forces against the gathered demonstrators especially in the popular neighbourhoods of the various states of the Republic of Tunisia. These violations included cases of excessive use of force, violence to disperse demonstrators and protestors, intensive use of tear gas, as well as direct tossing of gas canisters into houses and onto protestors from a deadly distance. In this context, Tunisian youth Haikel Al-Rashdi died after suffering a serious head injury following his participation in social protests in the city of Sbeitla. Many activists were also arrested by the security forces on charges of incitement after posting on social media supporting the social protests.

On 18 January 2021, Hamza Nasri participated in a peaceful demonstration in Tunis to denounce the deterioration of the country’s economic and political situation. After the demonstration, he was followed and arrested by police agents on his way back home. And, Hamza Nasri’s lawyer was provided with falsified information from Beb Suwaiqa and Beb Bhar police stations regarding his place of detention. Hamza was afterward accused of deliberately making an inappropriate finger gesture towards police officers. During the interrogation, Hamza stated that he had participated, like other citizens, in a peaceful march calling for the improvement of the civil, political, economic, and social rights of the Tunisian people. He added that during the rush of demonstrators he was assaulted by people he did not know to be policemen in plainclothes.

In response to Hamza’s statements, the police officers in question claimed that the activist tried to attack them and made obscene gestures towards them in the discharge of their duty. After two trials since 18 January 2021, the first was on 09 December 2021 and the second was on 24 January 2022, the sentence was pronounced on 31 January 2022. The Correctional Chamber of the Tunis Court of First Instance has sentenced Hamza to 3 months of prison in absentia, as he was not present at the courtroom, which the organizations deem a blatant infringement of the procedures and a formally defective ruling.

This defection in the procedure may result in Hamza Nasri being deprived of a phase of litigation. He has been subjected to a liberty-depriving sentence based on allegations used by the State and security forces to intimidate human rights defenders.

The signatory organizations, therefore, express:

  • Their solidarity with the activist and human rights defender Hamza Nasri. They condemn the intimidation policy used by the Tunisian State towards human rights defenders. Targeting activists in such circumstances and threatening them with such unjust sentences is a form of political violence, and an attempt to deny their right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Their rejection of the verdict issued against activist Hamza Nasri. These allegations are the means of security forces to intimidate activists and silence them. Tunisian law does not specify the exact definition of what can be considered ‘assaulting a public official’ under Article 125. This allows the authorities to interpret it broadly to criminalize and restrict freedom of expression.

The organizations denounce the prosecution of activists by accusing them of assaulting a public official, which is a common and widely used charge by the police forces against citizens, especially activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, intending to silence them and criminalize legitimate individual freedoms.

The signing organizations urge defenders of rights and freedoms to confront all attempts to strike freedoms and human rights.

Undersigned organizations

  • Tunisian League for Human Rights
  • Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Liberties
  • The Tunisian Organization Against Torture
  • Tunisian Association of Democratic Women
  • The Tunisian Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
  • Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
  • Association to activate the right to disagree
  • Southern Citizen Dancers
  • Damj, The Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality
  • Beity Association
  • International Alert Organization
  • Citizenship, Development, Cultures and Migration Association of the Two Banks
  • Young Leaders Association in Tunisia
  • Free Vision Association
  • Manamati Association Against All Forms of Discrimination
  • The Committee for the Respect of Freedoms and Human Rights in Tunisia (CRLDH)
  • Aswat Nisaa
  • Association Kayan
  • Association Washm
  • Initiative ‘Mawdoon’ for Equality
  • Association ‘ARTHEMIS’ for the protection of rights and freedoms
  • Association Nashaz
  • Association Tahadi
  • Speak for Freedom of Expression and Creativity
  • Tunisian Association for Positive Prevention ATP+
  • The Tunisian Association of the Cultural Movement
  • The Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities
  • World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)
  • Euro-Med Rights
  • Street Art Association
  • Tawheeda Bin Al-Sheikh Group
  • The Vigilance Committee for Democracy in Tunisia, Belgium
  • Banna Association for Media and Development
  • Tunisian Association of Young Doctors
  • Vigilance Association for Democracy and the Civil State
  • Equality organization
  • Minority Rights Group (MRG)
  • Intersection Association for Rights and Freedoms