Over 200 police officers in Tunisia’s protested in the second city of Sfax on Wednesday to demand the release of eight arrested policemen and defend their right to unionise, an AFP correspondent said.
Responding to a call from the SNSI police union, the plainclothes protesters chanted pro-union slogans and criticised what they called “harassment” and a drive to stifle union rights.
Eight officers were arrested on Friday after clashes broke out at a sit-in in Sfax, also organised by the SNSI, that sought to press “social and professional demands”, union spokesperson Chokri Hamada told AFP.
The SNSI had set up 32 tents in locations across Tunisia and refused to comply with dispersal orders from police deployed by the authorities.
Clashes broke out between unionised officers and the Sfax security forces at Friday’s demonstration.
A military court ordered the eight be placed in detention.
They were accused of “harming public security”, according to Hamada and local media.
Over the summer, Tunisian President Kais Saied — who staged a controversial power grab in July last year — called for police unions to be consolidated into one organisation.
The SNSI has criticised the call as an attempt at “oppression” of “hard-won” trade union rights, Hamada said.
“The interior minister does not want to work according to the law, he works under the instructions” of Saied, one union member told the crowd on Wednesday.
Since the 2011 fall of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who turned Tunisia into a police state, police have had the right to unionise, and a number of organisations including the SNSI were formed.
Tunisian police are frequently criticised for excessive use of force.
According to the Tunisian Human Rights League, 14 people have been killed during police actions that have gone unpunished in recent years.
Rights groups and the Tunisian opposition have also accused security services of using methods that recall those of the Ben Ali era since Saied’s power grab.