Tunisia: Escalating threats to media freedom as journalists are prosecuted

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Tunisian authorities to put an end to the ongoing violations of journalists’ rights and to immediately stop the prosecution of journalist Khalifa Guesmi.

There has been an alarming rise in the numbers of attacks on individuals who exercise their right to freedom of expression in Tunisia.1

The most recent was the detention of Radio Mosaique journalist Khalifa Guesmi on 18 March 2022 after he refused to reveal sources of information he used in his reporting on the arrest of a group of terrorist suspects in the city of Kairouan.

Authorities renewed his detention for five days starting from 23 March, despite the fact that officials from the anti-terrorism unit in Tunis searched his phone and subsequently identified the source of the information, according to Amira Mohamed, the vice president of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists.

On Friday, 25 March, journalists Khalifa Guesmi and Amal Mannai, and Houcine Dabbabi, Editor-in-chief of the news section of Radio Mosaique, appeared before a judge at the judiciary’s Anti-Terrorism Division. The judge ruled that Guesmi should be released, but that that investigations into the case would continue. 

ARTICLE 19 emphasises that the right to protect journalistic information sources is one of the most important pillars of freedom of the press. This right includes protection of information about persons who provide news to journalists, but also all documents, correspondence and communications that journalists may use when researching and publishing news.

In this regard, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment No. 34 of 2011, emphasises the critical role of the media in informing the public about acts of terrorism. It calls for authorities to ‘not unduly restrict their ability to work’ and stated that ‘journalists should not be penalised for carrying out their legitimate activities’. 

Journalist Khalifa Guesmi’s right to protect his sources has been violated. This is largely due to a failure to respect the legal conditions stipulated in Article 11 of Tunisia’s Decree-law No. 115 of 2011, which requires judicial permission to order that sources be revealed, and states that the goal of the disclosure of such information is to avoid crimes that pose a serious threat to the physical integrity of others. It also states that this demand can only be made if the piece of information cannot be obtained by any other means apart from via a court order. 

In another case, on 23 March 2022, police officers in the city of Rades prevented photographers Seif Kousani and Tarik Labidi from the Nawaat website from filming civil activity carried out by the ‘Taallam Oum’ (learn how to swim) campaign, which fights for justice for Omar Labidi, a young man who died during a police chase in 2018.2 The police also seized their equipment and official identity documents and took them to the Rades Meliane police station. At the station, the photographers were issued with a summons to appear before the Ben Arous Court of First Instance on 14 April 2022.

These police actions constitute a violation of freedom of the press and unacceptable intimidation of Nawaat’s photographers, and thus fall under Article 14 of Decree-law No. 115 related to freedom of the press, printing and publication. The actions also go against the obligations of the State of Tunisia with regard to its commitment to journalists’ safety.3

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Tunisian authorities to respect freedom of expression and the press, especially in this exceptional circumstance, in which the media plays an essential role in enriching public debate and providing news to the public so that they can independently form opinions on political, economic and social issues. It also calls on the relevant judicial authorities to drop the charges against journalist Khalifa Guesmi and ensure he does not face prosecution.

 

For more information, email press@article19.org