Three feminist activists were arrested Sunday night for painting graffiti on the wall of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs headquarters in Tunis. The activists claim that they were beaten by police during the arrest.
Sana Chamekh, Ines Zaghdoudi, and a woman known as “Abir” wrote “down with the ministry of the harem of the sultan’’ on the ministry wall. They are affiliated with the “libertine anarchist” feminist movement Feminist Attack.
According to its Facebook page, the movement addresses issues including stereotypes, the objectification of women, and violence through an “anarchic” framework. Graffiti is one tactic its members use to disseminate their message.
Chamekh, Zaghdoudi, and “Abir” say that after writing the graffiti they were chased by police, who assaulted them before taking them to a nearby police station. Following their release later that night the activists, accompanied by human rights activists, headed to Charles Nicole Hospital to get treatment for injuries they claim were a result of the assault.
“We went to the ministry around sunset to tag the walls, and police noticed our presence and chased us,” Chamekh told Tunisia Live.
“They cornered us in an alley and started beating us and insulting us. They beat us in the street and kept hitting us on the way to the police station nearby. Not only did they beat us, but they were very offensive and kept calling us names.”
“At the police station, we were asked to sign the police report but we refused to do so since they would not let us read it,” she added. “They only read to us saying that the charges are ‘attack on the ministry’ and ‘tagging the walls.’ Then we went to the hospital to get the certificates proving we were assaulted by the police.”
Chamekh said that they will use the medical certificates to file a complaint against the police officers who assaulted them.
“Things are different now. If a Tunisian citizen believes he was assaulted or offended by the police, he can file a complaint and seek justice,” Ministry of Interior spokesperson Mohamed Araoui told Tunisia Live.
Chamekh also explained the reason for targeting the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
“We are against the Ministry of Women that represents a system we denounce,” she said.
“This is our right to tag and express our opinion,” Abir told radio station Mosaique FM. “Even if we wrote something illegal, we should be punished according to the law and not beaten and insulted like what happened to us last night.”
Lina Ben Mhenni, Tunisian activist and blogger who was present when the women were released from the police station, denounced the treatment of the activists by the police.
She also condemned the hospital security agents’ treatment of those who were trying to film the release.
“I was not allowed to get in and they tried to take away my camera and when we went outside, we were also prevented from filming,” Mhenni told Mosaique FM.
“Since when do we need a permit to film outside a hospital? We thought we finally reached the stage where we enjoy the freedom of media, but this is not true after there was a clear attack on freedom of expression.”