Tunisia detains Journalists in crackdown

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Tunisia saw a wave of arrests targeting government critics, including journalists and lawyers, sparking concern from international allies.

President Kais Saied’s administration launched a crackdown on perceived opponents, detaining activists like Saadia Mosbah and France 24 cameraman Hamdi Tlili.  Lawyer Sonia Dahmani was also among those detained.

While Tlili was released without charges, radio journalist Borhen Bsaies and columnist Mourad Zeghidi were kept under pre-trial detention, accused of violating cybercrime laws by allegedly spreading fake news and undermining state security.

Bsaies’s lawyer highlighted a lack of clear evidence linking his client to these charges.

Criticism of the president often leads to accusations of undermining state security, signalling a broader attack on press freedom.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the arrests, calling for an end to the government’s authoritarian tactics.

These developments mark a troubling trend in Tunisia, where political arrests have become more frequent under President Saied’s rule, raising concerns both domestically and among international partners.

The European Union, Tunisia’s top trade partner, on Tuesday issued a rare rebuke of Tunisian authorities, calling the arrests worrisome.

“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,” its spokesperson said in a statement.

State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters that the U.S. was engaging Tunisia about the arrests, particularly those of attorneys.

“This kind of action is inconsistent with what we think are universal rights that are explicitly guaranteed in the Tunisian constitution, and we’ve been clear about that at all levels,” he said.

Tunisia is a key ally for the U.S. and the EU on issues ranging from security to migration in the Mediterranean.

The arrests were the latest made under a controversial cybercrime law called Decree 54 that authorities have used to pursue prominent political opponents since 2022.

A growing chorus of groups, including the country’s largest labour union and its affiliate that represents journalists, condemned the law and the arrests.

The General Union of Journalists on Tuesday said the law was being used to stifle freedom of expression and called it “a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of journalists.”

They said that the two journalists were at risk of being fined and facing five years behind bars if found guilty in court next week.

The arrests mark a continuation of Saied’s tumultuous first term in office, months ahead of a yet-to-be scheduled presidential election expected this fall.

Leading opposition parties are expected to boycott the contest.

Africanews/Hauwa M.

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