A few hundred Tunisian Salafists gathered peacefully today in front of the Ministry of Justice in Tunis, protesting discrimination against Salafists and demanding the release of suspects arrested in the aftermath of the attack on U.S. embassy in Tunis on September 14.
Salafists have been blamed for violence in the wake of embassy attack, creating nationwide controversy and further fracturing national politics.
Families and lawyers of the prisoners also attended the demonstration today. They held signs that read “No to exclusion! No to discrimination! No to terrorism,” “Terrorist Act is an American Act,” and “Leave Salafists Alone, Arrest RCD partisans,” referring to members of the former ruling party under the Ben Ali regime.
The protesters accused the media of causing division and the Tunisian government of being a pawn of the U.S. ”I am Muslim, not a terrorist! Media you got it wrong,” they chanted, as well as “Media stop the division,” and “Tunisia is the home of my ancestors and children. I have the right for my country.”
Salafist Imam Cheikh Khmaies Mejri, a speaker at the protests, said that Tunisian Salafists are being punished for having
different beliefs and not believing in democracy. He claimed that over 900 Salafists are currently incarcerated. Their charges are not based on terrorism but rather their non-participation in Western democracy, he said.
“This discrimination, sometimes becomes persecution. It’s like you either think like them or else you’re considered an outlaw,” he said.
Fawzi Jeballah, an official at the Ministry of Justice, said investigations into recent violence is ongoing.
“Not all suspects are arrested. There are some who are wanted and still out there, others who are closely monitored,” he said.
Jeballah said around 220 suspects in the U.S. embassy riots have been arrested, though he did not confirm the precise figure. He added that charges vary depending on the case and the suspect.
During the protest this morning, Halima Ben Slimen held the identification card of her son, Suheil Ben Slimen, who has been held for over a month and a half. Suheil “is not even a Salafist,” his parents said.
His mother said that 26-year-old Suheil was arrested about three kilometers away from the U.S. Embassy in Tunis on September 14.
“Even the investigation judge showed sympathy to his case. He knows Suheil is innocent,” said his father.
The U.S. government was granted access last week to Tunisian-born Ali al-Harzi, who is suspected of participating in the September 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.