Police arrested a leading gay activist at a rally in Tunisia Protest news

Police arrested a leading gay activist at a rally in Tunisia  Protest news
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Tunisia, Tunisia – Police have arrested a leading gay rights activist who demonstrated violence against young people during a rally against a referendum against the Tunisian president’s new proposed constitution.

Protesters marched towards the Interior Ministry in central Tunisia to protest against President Kais Said’s new constitution and demand a halt to the referendum process, police violently pushed back on Friday.

Al Jazeera witnessed beatings of protesters and other violent incidents, including the use of pepper spray by police.

President Said published the draft of the new constitution late last month, ahead of a July 25 referendum in which Tunisians will vote to accept or reject the document.

July 25 marks one year since Said fired Tunisia’s prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive power.

Two months later, he announced that he would to rule by decree, and destroyed many of the country’s democratic state institutions, including the Supreme Judicial Council. In June he fire Dozens of judges accuse them of corruption and “terrorism” and consolidate their power.

There was a clash between protesters and the police in Tunisia
Police clashed with protesters who accused President Kais Said of seizing power and feared the new constitution would lead to a dictatorship. [Fethi Belaid/AFP]

Said says he has taken exceptional measures to save the country from any imminent threat, but his critics say his actions have exacerbated the political and economic crises facing Tunisians struggling against a backdrop of high inflation and unemployment and shrinking public services.

‘I’m so angry’

On Friday, police made several aggressive charges against a relatively small but vocal group of protesters.

They attacked the leader of the leftist Popular Front, Hama Hemami, as they charged the protesters, a female journalist was slapped while trying to photograph police arresting a protester, and Al Jazeera saw scores of people suffering from the painful effects of tear gas and pepper spray.

The police dragged the protesters to the ground while arresting them and kept them under stress while removing some of them.

Among those arrested was Saif Ayadi, a leading LGBTQ+ activist. Lawyers Without Borders told Al Jazeera that he is currently being held in the Gorjani detention center, but expressed concern for his safety as he had previously been arrested and beaten by police.

Riot police pushed back the crowd with their shields before fellow policemen chased the protesters down side streets and used force against the crowd.

Khalil Ayari, a 23-year-old nursing student, told Al Jazeera: “I saw 10 people arrested and (they) were just protesting peacefully. I saw them attack a girl, they squeezed her arm so hard that I could see the bruises growing.”

Ayari said that he took to the streets because he was angry with the president’s actions.

“I am very angry,” I said. “I read the constitution, it is only about the president, everything is for him, he will make all the decisions and take everything on himself.”

He added: “After today, I don’t feel safe in Tunisia.”

Underneath new constitution, Said would be able to continue in power by decree until a new parliament is formed after the election scheduled for December. It will also have ultimate authority over the government and the judiciary, with the government answerable to the president and not to parliament.

In Tunisia, protesters and police approached barriers erected after an officer fired tear gas into their faces.
Tunisian police fired tear gas at a protester trying to remove metal barriers during a protest against a proposed new constitution on Friday. [Fethi Belaid/AFP]

Ayla Salemi, who works in the civil society, had a red face after being exposed to pepper spray.

“The police shouted and insisted we go home, then they charged us,” he told Al Jazeera. “They beat women activist Waen Nawal with sticks and used pepper spray on me and others.”

A 35-year-old woman tried to catch her breath. “I was against what happened in the parliament last year, but I am also against this president, now the situation is much worse than before.”

For many young people, Saeed’s actions are a betrayal.

“We are against Said’s constitution because it will lead us to a dictatorship, we cannot tolerate it; we are here to say no,” 23-year-old law student Malak Ben Amane told Al Jazeera.

Halfway through the interview, a policeman came to harass Ben Amane, but he stood his ground and refused to move. “This violence is not unusual, it happens every day, this is a police state,” the officer said as he walked away.

Until Friday, the protests against the president were mostly middle-aged people, but now young people are turning against him.

“Yes, we are depressed, but we are here to defend our revolution and our democracy, so I will march again tomorrow,” said Ben Amane.

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