TUNIS – On Monday, September 24, 2012, America Abroad Media’s Tunisian office – Association Tunisie Media (ATM) – hosted its ninth town hall connecting Tunisian citizens for discussion about the critical issues they face during the democratic transition. The event – organized in partnership with and broadcast on Shems FM – connected individuals in Sidi Bouzid, birthplace of the Arab uprisings, with others in the coastal city of Sfax to discuss the contentious relationship between Tunisia’s security forces and protesters.
The fundamental question posed was whether security forces have been using excess force to disperse protesting crowds, and whether or not this infringes on citizens’ civil rights. Many participants who were either victims of police violence or activists for the right to assemble and protest argued yes. State officials, who sat on the panel, argued no – providing explanations for the use of force against protestors who were breaking the law and posed a threat to public safety. When the recent attack on the US embassy was brought up, state officials said that they believed they “avoided a catastrophe, which was bound to happen if the security forces had intervened in more forceful ways, meaning the death toll of protesters could have been much higher than 4 people killed.”
The heated discussion also included numerous phone calls from listeners, as well as comments and questions submitted via Facebook. There was a strong sense from the tone and focus of the discussion that participants felt government security forces were indeed using excess force in dispersing protests, thereby infringing on civil rights. So it came as quite a surprise when, at the end of the town hall, the host read the results of an online poll from Shems FM’s website. A mere 12.27% said the state uses excess force in dealing with protesters, with a remarkable 87.73% saying the state doesn’t use enough.
Listen to audio interviews with some of the town hall participants below:
Gaith Youssifi, unemployed university graduate
Khaled Aounia, lawyer and activist
Lazhar Gharbi, political and union activist
To see pictures from the event, click here .