Two Tunisian journalists jailed pending trial, bolstering fears for free speech

By Thomson Reuters May 15, 2024 | 7:06 AM

TUNIS (Reuters) – A Tunisian judge on Wednesday ordered the imprisonment of two prominent journalists pending trial, their families and lawyers said, reinforcing fears of a widespread campaign aimed at silencing dissent and curbing free speech.

IFM radio journalists Mourad Zghidi and Borhen Bsaiss were detained on Saturday over political comments made on the radio, their lawyers said.

Public Prosecution spokesman Mohamed Zaitouna said the two are suspected of publishing news that includes personal data and false news aimed at defamation.

They will be kept in prison until their trial, expected at the end of this month.

The detentions raise the number of jailed journalists to five, while the Journalists’ Syndicate says that may others are facing persecution.

Since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, the country has been considered one of the more open media environments in the Arab world.

But politicians, journalists and unions say that freedom of the press faces a serious threat under the rule of President Kais Saied who came to power following free elections in 2019.

Two years later he shut down the elected parliament and moved to rule by decree. He also assumed authority over the judiciary, a step that the opposition called a coup.

Saied rejects accusations of strongman rule and says that his steps aim to end years of chaos and corruption.

The European Union said on Tuesday it was concerned about the wave of imprisonment of many civil society figures, journalists and political activists, and demanded clarifications from Tunisia.

Tunisian police stormed the Bar Association’s headquarters on Monday for the second time in two days during which they arrested two lawyers critical of the president.

Last week, police arrested two activists on suspicion of helping sub-Saharan migrants stay in Tunisia and for alleged financial abuses, according to lawyers.

(Reporting By Tunisian newsroom; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Nick Macfie)