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Tunisian police arrest gay activist amid protests against president’s power grab

Tunisian police arrest gay activist amid protests against president’s power grab

Tunisian gay rights activist Saif Ayadi was among the people arrested during protests against a referendum aimed at centralizing the power of the Tunisian President Kais Saied.

Tunisian policeman sprays tear gas at a protester trying to remove metallic barriers during the July 22 protest against the Tunisian president’s proposed new constitution. [Fethi Belaid photo courtesy of AFP via Al Jazeera]
He was held at the Gorjani detention center. Human rights defenders said they were  concerned for his safety. After previous arrests, he has been beaten by police, they said.

Al Jazeera reported:

Police arrest leading gay activist in crackdown on Tunisia rally

Young people join anti-Saied demonstrations amid growing anger at president’s proposed new constitution.

Tunis, Tunisia – Police have arrested a leading gay rights campaigner in a violent pushback against young people during a rally [on Friday, July 22] against the [July 23] referendum on the Tunisian president’s newly proposed constitution.

Police violently shoved protesters marching on Friday in a vocal but peaceful demonstration as they headed towards the Ministry of Interior in the centre of Tunis to demonstrate against President Kais Saied’s newly penned constitution and demand an end to the referendum process.

[Tunisia’s electoral commission – controlled by Saied – said this week that 95% of votes in the constitutional referendum were in favor of the proposed new constitution. The referendum was boycotted by opposition groups.]

Al Jazeera witnessed beatings and other violent abuses of protesters, and also saw police use pepper spray. …

July 25 marks a year since Saied sacked Tunisia’s prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority, citing a national emergency in a move critics have called a coup.

Saif Ayadi, LGBT rights activist at Damj Association, surrounded by other protesters in October 2020. (Ahmed Zarrouki photo courtesy of Nawaat and HRW)

Two months later he announced he would rule by decree, and dismantled many of the country’s democratic state institutions including the Supreme Judicial Council. In June, he fired dozens of judges accusing them of corruption and “terrorism”, further consolidating his power.

Saied says he has implemented a period of exceptional measures to save the country from any imminent danger but his critics say his actions have only exacerbated the political and economic crises facing Tunisians who are struggling amid high inflation and unemployment, and declining public services.

On Friday, police launched a number of aggressive charges against what was a relatively small although vocal group of protesters. …

Police dragged protesters to the ground as they arrested them, and held them in stress holds as they marched some of them away.

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Among those arrested was a leading LGBTQ+ activist Saif Ayadi. Avocats Sans Frontiers told Al Jazeera he is currently being held at Gorjani detention centre but said they are concerned for his safety as he has previously been arrested and beaten by police.

Riot police pushed back the crowd with their shields before fellow officers charged forcefully against the crowd, chasing protesters down side streets.

The Christian Science Monitor also reported Saif Ayadi’s arrest and quoted his description of attacks on opponents of the Kais Saied regime:

“We who advocate for legal rights are facing revenge attacks, intimidation, and threats by the police – particularly those of us who advocate for queer rights,” says Mr. Ayadi, a social worker at Damj, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ Tunisians. “I fear for my safety, for my organization, and particularly those who come to us for assistance.”

Tunisian human rights activists and journalists held a press conference (in Arabic) on July 28 to discuss ongoing repression in Tunisia.



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