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‘They beat him’: fear and anger at latest police killing in Tunis | Global development

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Almost everyone in the streets around Ahmed Ben Ammar’s house in the Tunis district of Sidi Hassine claims to have known him or his family. Nearly everyone also has a slightly different account of his death in police custody on Tuesday. Details vary but all agree that the 32-year-old was beaten to death by police this week.

Sidi Hassine is to the west of Tunisia’s capital, on the far side of the Sebkha Sijoumi wetlands and the hulking landfill at Borj Chakir, already years past its scheduled closure date. The smell and the mosquitoes fill the air. At one end of the road is a thriving market, at the other – near where Ben Ammar lived – cafes and shops line the dusty street.

“He was a good guy. He just wanted to work. He’d originally been a metalworker,” his friend Marwen says, describing the “clean” guy he remembered. “He was walking with his fiancee when the police stopped him, suspecting drugs. He refused to go with them, so they beat him.”

No one here is surprised by the behaviour of the police, only its ferocity.

“This is how they police working-class neighbourhoods,” Marwen says. “When you tell people you’re from Sidi Hassine they stand back, like you’re a criminal.

“Some people from here do get good jobs,” he says, although stressing that it remains the exception rather than the rule. For many young people in Sidi Hassine, illegal migration to Europe is the best option.

Protests followed Ben Ammar’s death. The following evening, a teenaged boy was filmed being stripped naked and brutally beaten in the street by police. Outrage and unrest spread, with protests erupting in the similarly marginalised neighbourhoods of Ettadhamen and Intilaka and spreading to the city centre.

“Most of those people involved in the protests will have been marked by the police. The next time they go into the station to get their paperwork renewed, they’ll be waiting for them,” Marwen says. Once they have a criminal record, few will find employment.

Politicians have denounced what they said was “isolated” police violence against the two men, promising a full investigation. However, Sidi Hassine residents point to an endemic culture of violence, corruption and impunity, untouched by past promises of reform.

“These aren’t individual acts,” says Arbi, 34. “They happen all the time. They happened yesterday, they’re happening today and they’ll happen tomorrow.”

He recalls the time he bought a few items of clothing to sell during Ramadan, only to have them confiscated by police, leaving him struggling to support his baby daughter. Unemployment across Tunisia averages 16%. Among 15- to 24-year-olds, more than a third remain jobless. Nobody knows how the Covid pandemic and the collapse of Tunisia’s tourism industry, plus related businesses, may affect those numbers.

Police violence is far from a new phenomenon in Tunisia. In January, demonstrations against police violence saw 2,000 predominantly young people from Tunis’s poorer neighbourhoods arrested, their identities now imprinted upon the long memory of Tunisia’s state bureaucracy. Many of them, including children, reported being beaten or maltreated in detention.

While nearly all strands of Tunisian public life have undergone reform since the 2011 revolution, police violence and impunity – safeguarded by a burgeoning network of police unions – appears only to have flourished.

Abderazzak, 31, sits outside a Sidi Hassine cafe. He’s never known a steady job, relying instead on precarious work as a day labourer to support his wife and baby son. Like many, he is not surprised at the fate of Ben Ammar and worries about his own future.

As a queue forms outside the bakery opposite, he says it should not be trading, as bakeries are on strike over delays in government subsidies intended to keep down the price of bread.

“They’re going to put the price of bread up shortly,” Abderazzak says. “How can I afford that? My son didn’t even have dinner last night.”

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Delta COVID Variant Reportedly Draws Biden’s Attention, Resources Away From Other Priorities

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Despite high overall rates of vaccinations in the US, more and more Americans are getting infected with the new, rapidly spreading ‘delta’ variant of the coronavirus, once again testing the limits of hospitals and reportedly sparking talks about new mask-up orders from authorities.

The rapidly increasing number of new COVID-19 cases in the US caused by the more infectious delta strain of the virus is frustrating the Biden administration, as the problem draws attention and resources away from other priorities that the White House would like to concentrate on, the Washington Post reported, citing several anonymous sources. Among the problems that the administration reportedly had to de-prioritise are Biden’s infrastructure initiatives, voting rights, an overhaul of policing, gun control and immigration.

The White House reportedly hoped that the pandemic would be gradually ebbing by this time, allowing it to focus more on other presidential plans. Instead, the Biden administration is growing “anxious” about the growing number of daily COVID-19 cases, the newspaper sources said. The White House press secretary indirectly confirmed that Biden is currently preoccupied with the pandemic the most.

“Getting the pandemic under control [and] protecting Americans from the spread of the virus has been [and] continues to be his number-one priority. It will continue to be his priority moving forward. There’s no question,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on 22 July.

The administration had reportedly expected new outbreaks in the country, but not as many as they’re seeing. Current analytical models predict anything between a few thousand new cases and 200,000 new infected daily, the Washington Post reported. Washington also fears that daily deaths might reach over 700 per day, up from the current average of 250. However, the White House doesn’t expect the pandemic numbers to return to their 2020 peak levels.

At the same time, the Biden administration is trying to find scapegoats to blame for the current shortcomings in fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Namely, Biden  last week accused the social media platform of failing to combat the spread of disinformation on COVID-19 and thus “killing people”. The statement raised many eyebrows since many platforms mark COVID-related posts and insert links to reliable sources of information regarding the disease and the vaccination efforts aimed at fighting it. The White House also hinted that the Republican-controlled states became the main sources of new COVID cases, while often underperforming in terms of vaccination rates.



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Sierra Leone abolishes death penalty | Global development

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Sierra Leone has become the latest African state to abolish the death penalty after MPs voted unanimously to abandon the punishment.

On Friday the west African state became the 23rd country on the continent to end capital punishment, which is largely a legacy of colonial legal codes. In April, Malawi ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, while Chad abolished it in 2020. In 2019, the African human rights court ruled that mandatory imposition of the death penalty by Tanzania was “patently unfair”.

Of those countries that retain the death penalty on their statute books, 17 are abolitionist in practice, according to Amnesty International.

A de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty has existed in Sierra Leone since 1998, after the country controversially executed 24 soldiers for their alleged involvement in a coup attempt the year before.

Under Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution, the death penalty could be prescribed for murder, aggravated robbery, mutiny and treason.

Last year, Sierra Leone handed down 39 death sentences, compared with 21 in 2019, according to Amnesty, and 94 people were on death row in the country at the end of last year.

Rhiannon Davis, director of the women’s rights group AdvocAid, said: “It’s a huge step forward for this fundamental human right in Sierra Leone.

“This government, and previous governments, haven’t chosen to [put convicts to death since 1998], but the next government might have taken a different view,” she said.

“They [prisoners] spend their life on death row, which in effect is a form of torture as you have been given a death sentence that will not be carried out because of the moratorium, but you constantly have this threat over you as there’s nothing in law to stop that sentence being carried out.”

Davis said the abolition would be particularly beneficial to women and girls accused of murdering an abuser.

“Previously, the death penalty was mandatory in Sierra Leone, meaning a judge could not take into account any mitigating circumstances, such as gender-based violence,” she said.

Umaru Napoleon Koroma, deputy minister of justice, who has been involved in the abolition efforts, said sentencing people on death row to “life imprisonment with the possibility of them reforming is the way to go”.

Across sub-Saharan Africa last year Amnesty researchers recorded a 36% drop in executions compared with 2019 – from 25 to 16. Executions were carried out in Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan.

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[Ticker] EU to share 200m Covid vaccine doses by end of 2021

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The European Commission announced it is on track to share some 200 million doses of vaccines against Covid-19 before the end of the year. It says the vaccines will go to low and middle-income countries. “We will be sharing more than 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines with low and middle-income countries by the end of this year,” said European commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

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