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Tunisia: journalists and politicians denounce investigation after article criticises PM

Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden in Tunis, Tunisia on May 07, 2022 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]
Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden in Tunis, Tunisia on May 07, 2022 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

Journalists and politicians in Tunisia have denounced the country's Anti-Crime Squad's summons of the director of a news website because of an article criticising Prime Minister Najla Bouden, Al-Quds Al-Arabi has reported. Nizar Bahloul of the Business News website was summoned yesterday after a judicial complaint was filed against him by Minister of Justice Leila Jaffel on behalf of Bouden.

Bahloul said that the complaint included accusations of "spreading false news and attributing incorrect allegations to a public official, in addition to defaming and insulting the Prime Minister, and its impact on public security and harm to state establishments, according to the articles of Decree No. 54 relating to combating crimes related to information and communication systems."

The Tunisian Federation of Newspaper Directors (FTDJ) said that this investigation "strikes deeply at freedom of speech and the press." It added that it falls within the framework of pressure, restrictions and systematic campaigns against directors of media institutions and journalists. "These campaigns follow analysis or articles in which opinions are expressed freely or the authorities are criticised." The FTDJ declared its "absolute support" for Bahloul and his staff.

The federation pointed out that the investigation into Bahloul comes just days after a similar move against Reda Al-Kafi, editor-in-chief of the Kapitalis website. "This is another move to silence and attack media freedom." It called for legal guarantees to protect media personnel, as well as for the right of Tunisians to be informed of what is happening in their country. "Journalists must be able to work without pressure intended to curb the free expression of facts and their opinions."

The assistant to the former speaker of parliament said that he stands in solidarity with Bahloul. "He is being tried for an article expressing his opinion," added Maher Madhioub.

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The same sentiment was put forward by the head of the Machrouu Tounes party. "I stand unconditionally in solidarity with Nizar Bahloul and the Business News team," said Mohsen Marzouk. "And I pity those who use the means to suppress free voices that did not work before and will not work now."

The head of the Tunisian Observatory for Human Rights reiterated its commitment to freedom of the press, and all other civil and political rights. "We express our solidarity with Nizar Bahloul and all Business News journalists," said Mostafa Abdelkebir.

Hisham Al-Ajbouni of the Democratic Current Party called the investigation an "unprecedented crime against freedom of expression and opinion." This, he added, is despite President Kais Saied insisting that rights and freedoms are "guaranteed" under his leadership in Tunisia. "We express our solidarity and support for Nizar Bahloul and all the victims of the new tyranny and Decree No. 54 that was enacted to silence the voices of opponents of the Kais Saied regime and abuse them."

The head of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists, Mehdi Jelassi, said a few days ago that what Tunisia is experiencing today under the 2022 constitution drawn up by Saied, and Decree 54, which "threatens freedom of expression and publication," is a "severe setback" for Tunisia and creates an unsafe work environment for journalists in the country.

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