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Tunisia condemned for trying activist in military courts

Security forces take measures around the site as Tunisians gather at Habib Bourguiba Street to stage a demonstration to protest against political, social and economic crisis, in Tunis, Tunisia on 6 March 2021. [Yassine Gaidi - Anadolu Agency]
Security forces take measures around the site as Tunisians gather at Habib Bourguiba Street to stage a demonstration to protest against political, social and economic crisis, in Tunis, Tunisia on 6 March 2021. [Yassine Gaidi - Anadolu Agency]

The issuance of an arrest warrant against Tunisian blogger Salim Al-Jabali by the military prosecution after he criticised President Kais Saied has triggered a wave of condemnation among political parties and civil society activists, who categorically reject the referral of civilians to military courts.

Bloggers have warned Saied of the possibility of facing lawsuits accusing him of abusing his powers when his mandate ends in 2024. They reminded him of his late predecessor, Beji Caid Essebsi, who did not dare to try his critics before military courts and lost a lawsuit against blogger and political activist Imad Deghaij, which had great resonance not only in Tunisia but also internationally.

The activists considered Saied's recourse to military prosecution an insult to the revolution and the democratic path, and a return to tyranny and dictatorship.

Al-Jabali, who runs the popular Facebook page "the minister of hypertension and diabetes" – a tongue in cheek account which refers to ailments associated with stress, was detained on Monday after a complaint was filed by the Tunisian presidency.

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The Ennahda movement was at the forefront of those who criticised trying civilians in military courts, while condemning in a statement the prosecution of bloggers, and expressing unconditional support for freedom of expression.

"The Ennahda movement expresses its unconditional support and adherence to freedom of expression protected by the Tunisian constitution, its refusal of any form of judicial surveillance and restrictions on bloggers, media professionals and thinkers, and its rejection of referring civilians to military courts," it said.

The movement called on all actors and influencers to express their thoughts and opinions with respect and objectivity, without prejudice to institutions and individuals.

Prosecuting activists constitutes a violation of freedom of expression, the Heart of Tunisia party said, stressing commitment to the role of the civilian criminal justice system in legal action against civilians.

Military courts, it continued, have exclusive jurisdiction over military personnel only, warning of the dangers of involving the army institution in marginal battles.

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