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Rights activists slam Tunisia plans to jail people spreading 'false news'

A protest in Tunis, Tunisia on June 19, 2022. [Yassine Gaidi - Anadolu Agency]
A protest in Tunis, Tunisia on June 19, 2022. [Yassine Gaidi - Anadolu Agency]

A Tunisian presidential decree which orders the imprisonment of any person who spreads false news and information or rumours on social media has been condemned by human rights defenders, activists and journalists in the country.

Chapter 24 of the Information and Communication Crimes Law, which was issued on Friday, stipulates a five-year prison sentence for those said to be spreading false news, information, or rumours to attack others, affect public security, or spread horror.

It stipulates that the prison sentence reaches ten years if the targeted person is a public employee.

The head of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), Mehdi Jelassi, considered the decree "a new setback for rights and freedoms."

"The penalties for publishing in any media network are a severe blow to the values of the revolution, which granted freedom to journalists and all Tunisians," Jelassi said.

He pointed out that "the penalties that the decree stipulated reminded Tunisians of the laws used by the regime of the late Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali before the revolution to silence his opponents."

While Tunisian journalist Waheeda Kader fears that "this decree could become a tool used by the authorities against media professionals and journalists to silence their voices and direct them towards an individual opinion."

"This decree is considered a real danger to media freedom, which everyone has seen decline due to the restrictions imposed by official agencies against journalists, especially the security services," Kader added.

"There is a clear tendency towards restricting media freedom and abolishing the citizens' right to accessing information," she said, highlighting a previous decree that prohibits officials from making press statements without obtaining permission from their managers."

"No one opposes imposing severe penalties against those who spread false news or defame people's honour, but there are concerns about how this decree will be implemented and how the information will be adapted," Kader said.

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