Geneva - The ongoing escalation against journalists and critical voices in Tunisia, as part of the“extraordinary measures” declared by President Kais Saied in July 2021, includes the recent summoning of a former president and two journalists for investigation.Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor condemns both the investigation and the measures.

The Tunisian authorities opened the judicial investigation on 15 April against former president Mohamed Moncef Marzouki; journalist and programme presenter Al-Hussein Bin Omar; and director of Tunisia’s Al-Zaytouna television channeland journalist Sami Al-Said, according to the official spokesperson for the Ariana Court in the Tunis suburb.

The investigation comes following a live discussion on Al-Zaytouna, which the authorities deemed parts of to be “intentionally inflammatory” and harmful to “public security”, per the complaint filed with the Audiovisual Communications Authority.

Saied has previously stated that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Tunisian constitution and that history cannot be reversed. “If anyone wants proof,” he has said, “they should read the headlines of Tunisian newspapers and listen to the debates on various media platforms. Whoever promotes the opposite...This belies itself and is belied by the media scene in general.”

These official declarations stand in sharp contrast to the ongoing campaigns of harassment, summonses, and arrests of journalists intended to uphold the prohibitions on public liberties and limit different types of nonviolent assembly, as well as to the unprecedented attacks on journalists in Tunisia.

The country’s Court of First Instance issued a six-month jail sentence on 17 April against journalist Mohamed Boughlab over a complaint filed by a Ministry of Religious Affairs employee. The complaintaccused him of “attributing untrue matters to a public employee without providing true information”.

The ruling regarding Boughlab is thought to be the third court ruling against journalists since the start of the year.

The Court of First Instance in the north-eastern city of Ben Arous sentenced Ghassan Ben Khalifa, journalist and editor-in-chief of the Ihaaz website, on 18 Marchto six months in prison on charges of insulting others via social media platforms. His sentencing followed a lawsuit filed more than a year ago, accusing him of being behind a Facebook page critical to Saied. 

These rulings express a serious violation by the Tunisian government of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and freedom of the press. The country’s human rights situation has gotten worse since Saied imposed what he called his “extraordinarymeasures” in 2021; the measures included dissolving the elected parliament and isolating the government as “necessary to save Tunisia from years of chaos”.

Repressive actions by the government, such as the ongoing detention and summoning of citizens, journalists, and public figures while ignoring their right to demonstrate, seriously violate the human rights protected by the Constitution of Tunisia and the state’s international commitments, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

There must be an end to all major violations of public rights in Tunisia, including the use of the legal system to settle political scores with opponents and journalists. Additionally, all prisoners of conscience, including politicians, media professionals, and opinion activists, must be released immediately, and their political charges must be dropped.

Euro-Med Monitor reiterates that the Tunisian authorities are required to uphold their obligations in accordance with the country’s constitution and pertinent international agreements and standards, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Republic of Tunisia ratified in 1969.