Tunisia: a return to a police state?

Tunisia: a return to a police state?
Comment: Tunisian citizens and international journalists report an increase in arrests and police activity following the attack on the Bardo museum, says Conor Sheils.
3 min read
02 Apr, 2015
Many fear Tunisia is returning to being a police state [AFP]
In the hours following the brutal Bardo museum attack, the Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi vowed to fight terrorism "without mercy".

Since then the country united in patriotism and defiance best demonstrated by Sunday's government-sponsored march against terrorism.

Just two weeks after the attacks, scores of people have already been arrested and nine people killed in a security operation againt a suspected terrorist cell on Saturday evening.
     This fear has been increased by the arrest of journalists and scores of people connected to anti-terror operations.

Many Tunisians view the increased security presence, enhanced checkpoints and ongoing arrests as necessary.

However there are some who already believe the crackdown could cause a return to the authoritarian days of the former president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

This fear has been increased by the arrest of journalists and scores of people in "anti-terrorism" operations, and the killing of people described as terrorism suspects.

One international journalist was held by police for several hours on Saturday after trying to interview people in the area near where the attacks took place. He told al-Araby al-Jadeed: "I was a victim of overzealous policing and jittery Tunisian citizens."

Three women reportedly thought the journalist was behaving suspiciously and reported him to the police for having terrorist connections.

"While I was walking in the medina one of the women started shouting 'terrorist' at me. The police detained me and interrogated me for three hours." The journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, was eventually released.

Sadly this is not the only case of the police harassing professional journalists.

Yasmine Ryan, a freelance journalist who has written for al-Araby al-Jadeed, was questioned at a police station in the south of the country for several hours after she was heard speaking English with a friend on public transport.

"I understand the need for security precautions, but the fact I am an accredited journalist should make the nature of the conversation self-evident," she said.

Ryan said the policeman explained that someone on the louage, a shared taxi they were riding on, reported them for having a "suspicious conversation".

The louage driver dropped us off at the police station without any warning," she explained.

Meanwhile other members of the media noted suspicious activity on their social media and email accounts in the days following the museum attacks.
     Government rhetoric appears to echo comments made by Egyptian strongman Abdel Fatth El Sisi in the days after the military takeover .

A team of youngsters due to take part in a taekwondo contest in Belgium were banned from leaving the country last week after security chiefs accused them of travelling to Syria to wage Jihad.

Political blogger Yassine Ayari was jailed for six months last month for defaming the army earlier this year. Meanwhile Wasim Larissi, a famous entertainer, and Muaz Ben Gharbia, a popular TV host, were arrested days before the Bardo attacks amid claims they had insulted the president.

These events have left many questions about whether the country is returning to the days of oppression, imprisonment and fear. Many fear the Bardo terrorism attacks may provide justification for such a move.