Tunisia journalists sentenced to one year in prison for spreading false news News
Tunisia journalists sentenced to one year in prison for spreading false news

The Court of First Instance in Tunis decided on Wednesday to sentence Tunisian journalists Mourad Zghidi and Borhen Bsaiss to one year in prison for spreading false news that harms public security.

Tunis court’s spokesperson asserted that broadcaster Borhen Bsaiss was sentenced to six months in prison for using communication and information systems to spread, disseminate, and write false news and data with the aim of violating the rights of others and harming public security. The court sentenced him to an additional six months of prison for using information systems to attribute unfounded data and unproved facts aimed at defaming others, damaging their reputation, and harming them financially and morally. Broadcaster Mourad Zghidi received a sentence of six months in prison for the same mentioned crimes.

The court’s spokesperson emphasized that the verdict results from investigations over publications and media statements undermining public order. He added that press freedom and freedom of speech are rights protected by laws, provided that one does not publish rumors and false information or damage other people’s reputations.

Tunisian journalists criticized the court’s ruling. On Wednesday, journalists gathered in front of the court in Tunis to show their support for both journalists and denounced Decree 54 under which the two broadcasters were convicted. Decree 54 is a law that punishes the use of communication systems to produce, spread, disseminate, and write false news and rumors to defame others or cause harm to public safety.

Furthermore, members of the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication in Tunisia (HAICA) signed a press release on Thursday calling for the release of the arrested journalists and the annulment of Decree 54.

This sentence came two weeks after Bsaiss and Zghidi’s arrest on May 11, when they were placed under pre-trial detention. Two days later, the prosecutor extended their detention for an additional 48 hours. When they appeared before the Public Prosecutor, they were questioned about media statements and social media posts, some of which date back to 2020.

During the same day of the arrest of Zghidi and Bsaiss, police officers raided the headquarters of Tunisia’s bar association, where lawyer and columnist  Sonia Dahmani had taken refuge after having been the subject of an arrest warrant. This raid triggered widespread protests from lawyers on May 14 and May 16 in response to what they described as  “a violation of criminal procedures and law” and an unprecedented escalation targeting their community.