Tunisian journalists demand arrested colleagues' release

Tunisian journalists protesting outside their union headquarters (Sofiene HAMDAOUI)
Tunisian journalists protesting outside their union headquarters (Sofiene HAMDAOUI)

Several dozen journalists demonstrated in Tunis on Monday against what they called the "repression" of freedoms and called for the release of two convicted colleagues, an AFP journalist said.

Around 60 protesters chanted "Freedom for the Tunisian press", "The police state is old news" and "The judiciary is under orders" outside the headquarters of the national journalists' union (SNJT).

The day of solidarity was organised after two well-known journalists were sentenced on Wednesday to a year in prison over social and news media posts about Tunisia's socio-economic situation and President Kais Saied, who seized sweeping powers in 2021.

The demonstrators, who included relatives of the imprisoned journalists, held placards reading "No to liquidating the media", "Journalism is not a crime" and "There is no free and professional press under threat and intimidation".

Broadcaster Borhan Bssais and political commentator Mourad Zeghidi were arrested on May 11 and found guilty of spreading "false information" and having "defamed others or damaged their reputation".

Their lawyers are appealing the ruling, the journalists' families told AFP.

Bssais and Zeghidi were convicted under Decree 54, enacted in 2022 by Saied officially in the name of fighting "false news" but widely criticised for its broad interpretation.

"Freedoms are beginning to lose their value in Tunisia and the colleagues being prosecuted are prisoners of conscience," SNJT president Zied Dabbar said before the protest.

Calling for Bssais and Zeghidi to be freed, he demanded a stop to "instrumentalising Decree 54" and "repressing freedoms".

A dozen lawyers, journalists, and civil society activists have been arrested under Decree 54 and other laws in recent weeks, drawing the "concern" of international NGOs, the European Union, the United States and France.

Over the past year and a half, more than 60 critical voices have been prosecuted under Decree 54.

Meeting the justice minister on Friday, Saied said the Tunisian constitution guaranteed freedom of expression.

"No one has yet been prosecuted for their opinions," he said.

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