Last July, a letter to the Tunisian ministers of justice and interior described in detail six incidents in which individuals or groups, who appeared to be motivated by an Islamist agenda, assaulted people because of their ideas or dress. The violence continued, and on August 16, a group of bearded men attacked a festival to commemorate the international day for Jerusalem in Bizerte, a city 40 kilometers north of Tunis, and injuring at least three activists.
Khaled Boujemaa, a human rights activist and an organizer of the festival, told Human Rights Watch that he called the chief of police several times to inform him about threats from people he identified from their beards and clothing as salafists. The officer ordered the organizers to cancel the festival, and accused them of being Shi’a, Muslims who are in the minority in Tunisia. When a large group of bearded men started tearing down the photos and the flags posted for the event, Boujemaa made another call to the police, but the police did not intervene to protect him, or the participants, and they were severely beaten. The police visited the victims in the hospital, and an attempt to identify the assailants was made, but nothing was heard since and nobody knows if a trial will take place or when.
As Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, states: “The failure of Tunisian authorities to investigate these attacks entrenches the religious extremists’ impunity and may embolden them to commit more violence.”
It is clear that the extremis tend to target artists, intellectuals, and political activists. Some of the victims are drama teachers and civil society activists, assaulted on October 14, 2011, and again on May 25, 2012, in Le Kef; organizers for Doustourna, a social network, attacked on April 21, 2012, in Souk Al Ahad; journalists, documentary filmmakers and philosophy professors, intimidated on May 25, 2012, in Bizerte and May 30, 2012, in Tunis.
Based on the victims accounts, these attacks have taken place in the past 10 months in various parts of the country by people having similar clothing and appearance. The attackers used weapons such as swords, clubs, and knives to prevent festivals, gatherings or celebrations, and have beaten people, apparently for their ideas, dress, or activity.
In all cases the victims filed complaints at the police stations immediately after the assault, in most cases identifying the attackers. As far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine, police have not arrested any of the alleged attackers, or initiated formal investigations or prosecutions against them.