Tunisia's progress on human rights has reached a crossroads, with the Islamist-led government rolling back gains made after last year's revolution, Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday.
"Progress on human rights in Tunisia that followed the ousting of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is being rolled back by the current Tunisian government, casting doubt on their commitment to reforms," the rights group said.
"Today, Tunisia is at a crossroads... Urgent steps are needed to realise the rights and freedoms for which Tunisians fought so tenaciously and bravely in late 2010 and early 2011," it added, in a report published on the anniversary of the country's first free elections.
In its 37-page report, entitled "One step forward, two steps backwards?" the rights watchdog highlighted concerns about individual liberties.
"Recent months have seen increased restrictions on freedom of expression, with journalists, artists, critics of the government, writers and bloggers targeted under the guise of maintaining public order and public morals," it said.
"The Tunisian authorities have also appeared unable or unwilling to protect individuals from attacks by groups believed to be affiliated with Salafist groups."
The report also criticised the "unnecessary and excessive use of force" used to disperse protesters who continue to take to the streets across Tunisia to express their discontent over the slow pace of reform.
Tunisia is celebrating one year since the election of the National Constituent Assembly, in an atmosphere marked by political tensions, sporadic violence and a stalled new constitution.
Last year's ballot swept the moderate Islamist party Ennahda to power, in a coalition government that also includes two secular centre-left parties, the Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol.
Since the historic elections, progress on drafting a new constitution has been delayed by disagreement over the nature of Tunisia's future political system, while clashes between police and protesters are common.
Thousands of opposition activists staged protests in Tunisia on Monday against the Islamist-led government and to denounce political violence, days after the death of an opposition party official.
The protests come on the eve of the anniversary of Tunisia's first free elections, in a political climate marked by tensions within the national assembly and a stalled new constitution.
More than 2,000 people gathered in central Tunis, where supporters of the leftist coalition the Popular Front shouted slogans such as: "The people want the regime to fall!" and "Jobs, freedom, dignity!", an AFP reporter said.
The same rallying cries were shouted during the revolution that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last year.
Three other parties, including ex-premier Beji Caid Essebsi's Call of Tunisia, also assembled several hundred supporters on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the city centre to denounce sporadic political violence.
The two factions eventually joined up and the protest ended without incident at around 1500 GMT.
"I am here to protest against violence. I think that the government has behaved irresponsibly, and like any irresponsible person, it cannot stay in power," opposition MP Ahmed Khaskhoussi told AFP.
"It does not realise the seriousness of the situation," he added.
Mustapha Kamel Nabli, the former central bank governor was sacked in controversial circumstances in July, also deplored the recourse to violence.
"Tunisia is passing through quite a difficult period, and resorting to violence can only worsen the situation," he said at the rally.
Separately, police clashed with protesters denouncing state violence in the southern Gabes region who refused to leave the two police posts that they had surrounded, an AFP journalist reported.
Around 800 people attended the protest, with the police firing tear gas after waiting two hours for the crowd to disperse, which led to clashes between the two sides.
The interior ministry announced a curfew on Sunday in four areas of the Gabes region, located not far from the marginalised centre of Tunisia where protests and strikes are common, after earlier demonstrations degenerated into violence.
Monday's protests follow the death of a Call of Tunisia official last week in Tataouine, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Gabes, during clashes with supporters of the ruling Islamist party Ennahda in what the opposition party called a "political assassination."
Essebsi's increasingly popular party claims the government will lose its legitimacy on October 23, a year after the assembly was elected, because it was committed to drafting a new constitution within 12 months.
Security has been beefed up at official buildings, banks and other strategic locations ahead of the anniversary, as a "precautionary measure," according to the army.
The Tunisian premier said in an interview published on Sunday that he wanted to build a model democracy in his country.
"Our great project is to build a model democracy for the Arab world," Jebali, who is number two in the Ennahda party, told France's Le Parisien newspaper.
"Our model must succeed, Europe and the United States should help us," he said, urging "European friends to invest in democracy.
"Otherwise, the alternative is chaos, anarchy ... which will affect the whole world," the prime minister added.