Today, the Sidi Bouzid First Instance Court decided to release protesters who were arrested for participating in last week’s demonstrations, reported several news outlets in the Tunisian media.
Water shortages and low standards of living in Sidi Bouzid drove residents to protest last week. Their demonstrations soon became violent, with confrontations between the protesters and the police resulting in a week of escalating tension. According to local sources, around 45 protesters were arrested, including two journalists.
The imprisonment of the demonstrators was condemned by Tunisia’s national union, UGTT, who on Sunday called for a general strike in Sidi Bouzid on Tuesday. Yesterday, over a thousand people answered this call and took to the streets, marching to the courthouse in order to demand the release of the protesters arrested last week.
Tunisian radio station Mosaique FM reported that the Sidi Bouzid tribunal decided to release all of the arrested protesters today. Additionally, the same source stated that some of the freed protesters claimed that they were treated violently during their arrest.
However, the Tunisian state-owned news agency TAP, reported that only 10 of the protesters were released. The article also stated that at least one protester will continue to be held in custody due to evidence of him attacking a police vehicle. However, the article did not specify whether other demonstrators are still being held in police custody.
Yesterday, the Governor of Sidi Bouzid Mohamed Najib Mansouri condemned the violence and chaos caused by the recent protests. Mansouri told Mosaique FM that “the government is not against peaceful social demands, but does not tolerate vandalism of public property.”
Mansouri also stated that only 30% of the public sector workers of the region participated in the general strike, while private sector workers did not protest.
Demonstrators not only called for social change, but also held signs and chanted slogans condemning the violent response of the police to previous protests and criticizing the government for ignoring Sidi Bouzid, a historically marginalized region.