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Tunisia

Key Developments

» Prosecutions continue despite government pledge to stop jailing the press.

» Journalists covering protests, ruling party are attacked and threatened.

Tunisia, the country that inspired uprisings across the Middle East, continues to struggle to realize the aspirations of its own revolution, including the guarantee of press freedom. Journalists were attacked while covering protests, and several reported receiving death threats in relation to their criticism of the ruling party. The government created a draft constitution, which local press freedom groups criticized as falling short of international press freedom standards. The final draft was pending in late 2013 as the constitutional assembly suspended its work due to political tension. Constitutional protection has proven necessary in Tunisia, where the government has imprisoned and fined journalists for libel and defamation and has even tried some in a military court. In protest against attacks on freedom of expression, journalists organized general strikes calling for the implementation of decree 115 that prohibits the imprisonment of journalists in relation to their work. In May, the government established the High Independent Authority for Audiovisual Communication, a self-regulatory body for the media.



  • 22

    Attacks on journalists
  • 10

    Journalists threatened
  • 5

    Years in prison
  • 41%

    Internet penetration
 

At least 22 journalists were physically attacked while covering anti-government protests throughout the year, according to CPJ research.


Breakdown of some attacks:

July 26, 2013

Yasen al-Khragy, correspondent for the private Al-Tunisia channel, is attacked while covering an anti-government demonstration at Habib Bourguiba Street, he tells CPJ. The channel reports the attack on its Facebook page but does not offer further details.

July 26, 2013

Ahmed al-Sahrawy, correspondent for Al-Motawast private satellite channel, is beaten on the same day while covering a protest in front of Al-Monestiry radio station in Al-Monestir city, according to al-Khragy. His injuries are not reported.

August 2, 2013

Security agents insult and beat Saida al-Trabolsy, correspondent for the Al-Hiwar al-Tunisia private channel, as the journalist tries to cover a sit-in outside the National Constituent Assembly. Al-Trabolsy is prevented from covering the protests, according to news reports.

 

Tunisia witnessed an unprecedented campaign of death threats against journalists, especially those who criticized the ruling Ennahda Party. At least 10 journalists received death threats in 2013, according to CPJ research. Two of the journalists said they had been offered special protection by the Interior Ministry.


Journalists under threat:

Neji Bghouri

The veteran journalist and former head of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists received several death threats via email and mobile phone. Bghouri said that on February 14 he was told, "Soon, you'll be killed."

Najiba Hamrouni

The current head of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists said she received calls from unidentified individuals in February who threatened to kill her and accused her of defaming the Ennahda Party and "insulting Islam."

Sofiène Ben Farhat

A journalist for the French-language daily La Presse de Tunisie and Shams FM radio, Farhat said on May 10 that he had received several death threats after he criticized a radical Islamic group and the ruling Ennahda party during a talk show at private broadcaster Nessma TV.

 

Mourad Meherzi, a photographer for the local online TV channel Astrolabe, was arrested at his home after recording a video of a film director throwing eggs at a government official during a public event, according to news reports. The photographer was charged with "conspiring to commit violence against a government official," which carries up to five years in prison. The film director was also arrested.

Shortly after Meherzi was arrested, Ziad el-Heni, president of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists, said in an interview that the prosecutor had falsified evidence implicating the photographer. El-Heni was subsequently charged with accusing a public official of "illegal activities ... without establishing the truth." He faces up to two years in prison and a fine.

The trials were continuing in late 2013.


Breakdown of the egg-throwing case:

August 16, 2013

Mourad Meherzi, photographer for the local online TV channel Astrolabe, videotapes a film director, Nasreddin Sihilli, throwing eggs at Mehdi Mabrouk, the Tunisian minister of culture, during a commemoration of the death of a Tunisian artist.

August 18, 2013

Police arrest Meherzi at his home. Prosecutor Tarek Chkioua accuses him of collaborating with Sihilli to film the attack.

August 23, 2013

Prosecutor Chkioua charges Meherzi under Article 120 of the penal code, which carries up to five years' imprisonment for "conspiring to commit violence against a government official." The prosecutor publishes a statement that Meherzi has confessed to collaborating with Sihilli to film the attack.

August 28, 2013

Zied el-Heni, president of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists, claims in an interview with broadcaster Nessma TV that the prosecutor has falsified evidence implicating Meherzi of conspiring in the attack.

September 5, 2013

Meherzi is released, but the charges against him remain.

September 13, 2013

El-Heni is detained in connection with the Nessma TV interview and is accused under Article 128 of the penal code, which punishes "anyone who, in a public address, in the media or by other means of publicity, makes accusations against a public official or accuses him of illegal activities in connection with his work, without establishing the truth of these allegations." If convicted, el-Heni could face two years in prison and a fine.

September 16, 2013

El-Heni is released pending trial. He pays bail of 2,000 dinars (US$1,215).

September 23, 2013

Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou tells el-Heni that security has confirmed information that unidentified groups are monitoring him and that the ministry can provide him with protection, according to the journalist and local news reports.

September 24, 2013

Al-Sabah newspaper reports that el-Heni's house has been raided by unidentified persons.

October 22, 2013

El-Heni is released pending trial.
 

With only 41 percent of Tunisian citizens using the Internet, the country ranks below the regional average for Internet penetration, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

Regional breakdown, according to the ITU:

Internet in the Middle East



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