Tunisia journalist union demands immediate release of detained reporter News
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Tunisia journalist union demands immediate release of detained reporter

The National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) issued a public statement Friday demanding the immediate release of prominent journalist Mohamed Boughalleb, who was detained by the police for 48 hours on suspicion of insulting a public official.

The spokesperson for the public prosecutor’s office told TAP that Boughalleb’s detention stems from a complaint filed by a public employee who claimed that Boughalleb had damaged her reputation and insulted her honor. The complainant accused him of morally insulting her by publicly mentioning her name, surname, and workplace on his Facebook page and radio program.

Following the plaintiff’s testimony on Thursday, the spokesperson for the Tunis Court of First Instance confirmed it was opening criminal proceedings against Boughalleb, which resulted in him being remanded in custody pending trial. During his testimony on Friday, the journalist claimed that the accuser wasn’t the intended target of his posts.

The SNJT strongly condemned the three-hour interrogation of Boughalleb, which took place despite his deteriorating health and his lawyer’s attempt to postpone the hearing with a medical certificate. The union affirmed its readiness to take any necessary action to safeguard its members and freedom of expression. It called upon all media professionals to demonstrate solidarity with Boughalleb by assembling outside the Court of First Instance in Tunis on March 24, 2024. SNJT said Boughalleb’s “arbitrary arrest” was intended to silence his critical voice and marginalize others in the profession.

The detention of Boughalleb, well-known for his outspoken criticism of Tunisian President Kaïs Saied, heightens concerns about the government’s increasing control over freedoms as the country prepares for presidential elections later this year. Reporters Without Borders has emphasized the extensive intimidation faced by journalists in Tunisia, including instances of violence perpetrated by street demonstrators. Along those lines, RSF reported a significant escalation of such incidents on January 14, 2022, when a correspondent for multiple international media outlets was assaulted, and ten other journalists were subjected to physical aggression while reporting on a protest.

Additionally, Tunisian government authorities have faced criticism for their alleged arbitrary arrests of individuals. For example, in early March 2024, the Tunisian General Workers’ Union (UGTT), which has been a key player in responding to the arrests of activists, businessmen and journalists following President Kaïs Saied’s consolidation of power in 2021, strongly condemned the detention of the union’s deputy general secretary and head of the private sector, Tahar Mezzi, due to an allegedly fabricated case. Notably, the arrest came just days before the UGTT planned a protest to denounce what it called “the violation of trade union rights and the disruption of social dialogue.”