Tunisia: growing attacks by religious extremists

In an Oct. 15 statement, Human Rights Watch called on Tunisian authorities to investigate a series of attacks by religious extremists over the past 10 months and bring those responsible to justice. The statement noted a letter sent in July to the ministers of justice and interior, detailing six incidents in which apparent Islamists assaulted artists, intellectuals and activists. Human Rights Watch said no progress had been made in these cases, and it meanwhile received reports of another such attack against the organizers of a festival in August. “The failure of Tunisian authorities to investigate these attacks entrenches the religious extremists’ impunity and may embolden them to commit more violence,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The victims in the six cases are: Rajab Magri, a drama teacher and activist, assaulted on Oct. 14, 2011, and again on May 25, 2012, in Le Kef; his nephew Selim Magri, on May 7, in Le Kef; Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, an activist and organizer for Doustourna social network, on April 21, in Souk Al Ahad; Zeineb Rezgui, a journalist, on May 30, in Tunis; and Mohamed Ben Tabib, a documentary filmmaker and philosophy professor, on May 25, in Bizerte. In all six cases the victims filed complaints at the police stations immediately after the assault, in most cases identifying the attackers. Human Rights Watch states that as far as it has been able to determine, police have not arrested any of the alleged attackers or initiated formal investigations or prosecutions against them.

Ironically, the most recent attack took place on Aug. 16, a group of bearded men presumed to be Salafists attacked a festival to commemorate Jerusalem (Quds) Day in Bizerte, an expression of solidarity with the Palestinians. Three activists were injured, and organizers say police ignored their reports of receiving threats in the lead-up to the festival. The event was apparently targeted in the belief that the organizers are Shi’ites (perhaps because Quds Day originated in Iran). (HRW, Oct. 15)


  1. Tunisia general strike averted
    A one-day general strike in Tunisia planned for Dec. 13 was averted by a last-minute deal between the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) and the Islamist-led government. The strike was called after Islamists armed with knives and sticks attacked a UGTT gathering in Tunis Dec. 4. It would have been the nation’s first general strike since 1978. The deal came as the country was preparing for the second anniversary of a street peddler’s self-immolation on Dec. 17, that sparked Tunisia’s revolution. (Think Africa Press, Dec. 12; Reuters, Dec. 5)

  2. Sufi shrines destroyed in Tunisia
    Sufi leaders said Jan. 23 that another one of their shrines in Tunisia had been torched, blaming on foreign-backed Salafist militants. In the 35th such attack in seven months, unidentified assailants hurled Molotov cocktails at the Sidi Ahmed Uwerfelli shrine in Akuda, 140 kilometers south of Tunis. (Middle East Online, Jan. 23)