People across Tunisia were shocked and outraged when a video showing police officers in civilian attire beating and completely undressing a 15 year old in the middle of the street appeared online on June 9. This assault occurred during protests held after the suspicious death of a man in police custody the day prior.
The first video that started to circulate online lasts about 50 seconds. It shows three officers who, while dressed in civilian attire, are wearing riot police helmets. The three men are in the midst of beating a young man, who is completely naked and lying on the ground. One of the officers, wearing a blue t-shirt, drags the teenager by his jeans, still around his ankles, before kicking him in the torso.
“Why [are you] doing that?” screams the person filming the video, who has taken refuge behind a palm tree.
Other videos, filmed by other people at different angles, also appeared online. These additional videos show more of what happened: the police officer gives the teenager a rough kick in the torso, then throws the jeans at his face. A van that has “police” written on it drives up. A second officer, wearing civilian clothes, takes the naked young man by his wrists and makes him walk to the vehicle and get in.
“He’s naked! They killed the poor thing, [they have] no mercy,” the person filming the video says.
Our team has decided to only share screengrabs of the video, both because of the extreme violence of the footage and to protect the dignity and identity of the minor being assaulted. However, the video has garnered more than 13,000 views on Facebook and more than 9,800 views on Twitter.
This assault and arrest took place in Sidi Hassine, a deprived neighbourhood in Séjoumi, located in the west of the capital, Tunis. The victim, identified on June 11 by the Akher Khabar newspaper, is a teenager from Sidi Hassine named Fadi who doesn’t attend school. He was on the C37 road when protesters and police clashed.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to geolocate the incident thanks to visual clues in the videos posted online.
>> Read more on the Observers: Videos capture police violence during Tunisian protests
The night before the incident, on June 8, 30-year-old Ahmed Ben Ammar died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody in Sidi Hassine. His friends and family say that they believe Ben Ammar died because he was tortured by police. The next day, a group of locals took to the streets to protest.
More than 40 Tunisian organisations have condemned the assault on the teenager and spoken out about how the officers who perpetrate these crimes are rarely punished.
Protests were held in front of the Ministry of the Interior on June 12 and 14, calling for Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, who served as interim Minister of the Interior, to resign.
The Ministry initially said that the teenager was drunk when he was arrested and that he “undressed voluntarily while the police patrol was trying to get him under control, as a provocative gesture,” in a statement published on June 10. It wasn’t until the next day that the Ministry announced that the officers involved in the incident would be suspended. As for the teenager, he was held in police custody and released the following day. The public prosecutor of Tunis' Second District has since opened an investigation into the circumstances around his assault.
A journalist at Akher Khabar newspaper interviewed Fadi, the teenage victim:
That night, I was heading home. But because of the agitation [the protest] and the suffocating tear gas, I had to retreat along with the protesters. I’ve never touched alcohol and I wasn’t drunk at all [Editor’s note: contrary to the version of events recounted by the Ministry of the Interior]. A bit later, there seemed to be less gas in the air, so I decided to try and make a break for home. However, a police officer on a motorcycle ordered me to stop. I was frozen by fear.
Four or five officers forced me to the ground. They beat me and took off my clothes. One of them took off my jeans and my underwear. Then, they made me get into the police van. In the van, they hit me with a baton and kicked me. But, finally, they told me to get dressed. By then, my trousers were in shreds.
When I got to the police station, the beatings started again. They accused me of so many things that I never could have done, like taking part in the riots and attacking people in the street, all under a barrage of insults.
The police assault on Fadi has fomented the protest movement in Tunis, especially in Sidi Hassine where protesters, armed with stones and fireworks, have been clashing with police during night riots since June 8. The riots are similar to those that gripped the country in early January 2021.
This video was posted on Facebook by a social media user in Sidi Hassine on June 13, 2021. It shows clashes between protesters and security forces at night.
According to a report released on June 10 by the Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), instances of protest in Tunisia have doubled over the past year. There were 1,155 protests in May 2021, compared to 516 in May 2020. Tunis is listed as the second-most "agitated region."
During the protests that swept Tunisia in January 2021, police threatened, arrested and tortured more than 600 minors, according to numbers released by the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH).