SAFETY ADVISORY: Tunisia as at 12/02/13

The International News Safety Institute urges journalists to exercise caution while covering demonstrations in Tunisia.

There have been reports of unrest since the murder of the liberal politician Chokri Belaid last week, the first political assassination since Tunisia's independence from France in 1965.

Last Friday (8 January) the Tunisian capital, Tunis, was engulfed by violent protests, which have not occurred since January 2011. Police fired tear gas into the crowds and there were reports of armed youths smashing cars and clashing with police. 

Although the situation has stabilised it is likely that protests may happen again on Friday.

INSI's advice on covering demonstrations and other civil disorders can be found below.

Journalists should be aware that tear gas (CS gas) may be used and take appropriate protective gear. Water cannons may also be used and this may wreck cameras and phones. You may wish to consider taking protective plastic to cover them in the event of getting caught up.

Journalists have also reported that their mobile phones/cellphones have been stolen while covering last Friday's protests. If you need to get your mobile phone our to take a photo, consider moving to the side of the protests. Try to get your back to a wall so that thieves can not approach you from behind, whilst you are taking the photo. Put the phone away once you have finished and make sure it is secure.

Covering demonstrations and other civil disorders

Before you head out, consider the following:

• Ensure your accreditation is in order and easily accessible.

• You may wish to alert the authorities that your news organisation plans to cover the protests, if it is appropriate and not dangerous to do so in the country you are in. If so, obtain the mobile number of the person in charge; the more senior the better.

• Take protective gear. This can include helmets, gas masks, or bullet proof vests with protective plates. Your decision regarding this may depend on what weapons the local police force uses for crowd control. 

• In case of tear gas, carry a bandana and soak it in water. Cover your mouth and nose with it. Try to use some sort of goggles to protect your eyes. Ladies - consider not wearing make up as tear gas sticks to it.

• Try not to wear contact lenses as the tear gas will get under the lense. Bring eye drops and spare glasses.

• Wear comfortable boots that you can run in.

• Wear natural fabrics, which may be less flammable than synthetic fabrics.

• Prepare a backpack with supplies to last a day: lightweight rain gear, energy bars and water, spare batteries for electronic equipment, protective equipment. 

• Pack a medical kit and know how to use it.

• Carry a photocopy of your press accreditation and telephone numbers of your editor and lawyer. Make sure your editor knows how to reach your family in case you're arrested or hurt.

• Set your mobile phone to speed dial with an emergency number pre-set.

• If possible, ensure you have studied the map prior to going on the ground. Consider filming from high vantage points. Agree a rendez-vous point in case you lose your team and agree a "safe" place where you can retreat if the situation becomes too dangerous.

On the ground:

• Try not go alone and if you can, take someone to watch your back if you're shooting pictures.

• As soon as you arrive, look for escape routes and ensure you know the landmarks to head for if you become disorientated. 

• Try to stay on the edge of the crowd and do not get caught on the line between police and protesters. 

• Crowds have a life of their own. Be constantly aware of the mood and attitude.

• Alert your editors if the mood starts to change and begin to think of what your plan is.

• If planning to change direction, seek advice from people who have just come from the direction you're heading. 

• Television crews should travel as light as possible. If experiencing aggression, ensureyour backpack is big enough to hold the tripod and pack it away. Be prepared to leave it behind if you need to run away.

When trouble erupts:

• Avoid horses. They bite and kick.

• Try to stay upwind from tear gas.

• Try to avoid getting in the line of the water being fired as it will damage your kit. It oftenhas dye in it for the security forces to be able to identify the protesters after.

• If the police detain you, try to ask them to call the person in charge if you have their number. Try to speak to a senior officer, as this will have more impact.

• Call your editor, ensure legal advice is available through your organisaiton.

• Try to avoid violence if you can and move away to film if necessary.

Photo: Protesters gather during a demonstration in Tunis Saturday Feb. 9, 2013. Several thousand supporters of Tunisia's ruling moderate Islamist party rallied in the capital in a pro-government demonstration Saturday, a day after the funeral of an assassinated opposition politician. ( AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)