• en

Tunisian Journalist To Stand Trial Next Month For Alleged Insult Of Public Official

Famous Tunisian journalist Mohamed Boughalleb’s lawyer says he might face two to four years in prison for insulting an official.

Tunisian prominent journalist Mohamed Boughalleb speaks during the filming of his show to broadcast via YouTube, in Tunis, Tunisia September 30, 2022. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui

A famous Tunisian journalist, Mohamed Boughalleb was placed in pre-trial detention on a judge’s order following a hearing on Tuesday in which he dangled the possibility of publishing information on corruption and the misuse of public funds by many ministries and public entities.

Boughalleb’s court appearance occurred four days after he was arrested in Tunis on accusations of insulting a public official on social media.

Boughalleb, a frequent contributor to popular radio stations and a vocal critic of Tunisia’s president, is set to stand trial next month and might face a term of two to four years in prison, according to his lawyer, Nafaa Larbi.

His arrest is the latest example of Tunisian officials bringing complaints to public prosecutors under a contentious 2022 law, which free expression and civil liberties campaigners say is increasingly being used to stifle journalists and government critics.

The law, known as Decree 54, was intended to combat cybercrime, but rights activists claim it has been used to prosecute prominent journalists and opposition figures such as opposition leader Chaima Issa, political commentator Ziad El Heni, and Sofiane Zneidi, a member of Tunisia’s largest opposition party, Ennahda.

In December, Human Rights Watch reported that Decree 54 had been used “to detain, charge, or place under investigation at least 20 journalists, lawyers, students, and other critics for their public statements online or in the media.”

Zied Dabbar, president of Tunisia’s National Journalist Syndicate, condemned Boughalleb’s detention, citing it as an example of how common the pursuit of journalists has become in Tunisia. He said eight journalists are currently on trial.

“We can not produce on-demand journalism that conforms to the desires of those in power,” Dabbar said Monday on Radio Mosaique, the country’s most listened to private station.

“What should a journalist do when he learns that a minister travels using public funds with a civil servant who didn’t professionally have to be there? Must he keep quiet and not reveal the scandal?” he added.

“While respecting privacy, it would be absurd that we not address the misuse of public funds and corruption of the public servants from the government that are paid from our pockets to serve us and not themselves.”

His trial will take place next month, just before President Kais Saied is likely to run for a second term in an unscheduled election.

After winning the president on an anti-corruption platform in 2019, Saied suspended Tunisia’s parliament, amended the constitution to enhance his own power, and limited the independence of the judiciary, which has since intensified its pursuit of his critics and opponents.

Melissa Enoch

Follow us on: