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EU asks Tunisia for clarification over arrests of journalists and activists

May 15, 2024 at 2:42 pm

Tunisian National Union of Journalists (SNJT) members organise a demonstration in observance of ‘World Press Freedom Day’ in Tunis, Tunisia on 3 May, 2024 [Yassine Gaidi – Anadolu Agency]

The European Union said on Tuesday that it was concerned about the wave of arrests of many civil society figures, journalists and political activists in Tunisia, Reuters has reported. The EU demanded clarifications from the government in Tunis as the North African country faces a growing political crisis.

Tunisian police stormed the Bar Association’s headquarters on Monday for the second time in two days and arrested Mahdi Zagrouba after detaining Sonia Dahmani, another lawyer critical of the president, over the weekend.

US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel responded by saying that the raids were “inconsistent with what we think are universal rights that are explicitly guaranteed in the Tunisian constitution and we have been clear about at all levels.”

Some opposition parties and national organisations described the weekend raid as “a shock and major escalation,” and the Bar Association declared a nationwide strike.

Two IFM radio journalists, Mourad Zghidi and Borhen Bsaiss, were also arrested following their comments on air and social media, their lawyers said.

“Freedoms of expression and association, as well as the independence of the judiciary, are guaranteed by the Tunisian Constitution and constitute the basis of our partnership,” explained the EU.

Last week, police arrested civil society activists including Saadia Mosbah on suspicion of helping sub-Saharan migrants stay in Tunisia and alleged financial abuses, lawyers confirmed.

Tunisian President Kais Saied told the National Security Council earlier this month that the migrant situation raised questions about who was really behind it. He described as “traitors” with foreign funding officials who run civil society groups defending migrants’ rights.

Saied took office following free elections in 2019, but two years later seized additional powers when he shut down the elected parliament and moved to rule by presidential decree. He also assumed authority over the judiciary, a step that the opposition called a coup.

On Sunday, hundreds protested in the Tunisian capital to demand the release of imprisoned journalists, activists and opposition figures, and the setting of a date for a fair presidential election.

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