Magharebia (Washington DC)

16 January 2013

Tunisia: Free Speech Advocates Voice Local Concerns

Tunis — Tunisians disagree on limits of free speech as members of the media and of the general public uncover cases of corruption.

Tunisia recently witnessed a number of cases condemning journalists, bloggers and artists for expressing their opinions or uncovering corruption cases involving the government and security agencies.

Tunisian authorities on January 8th issued a travel ban on journalist and blogger Olfa Riahi for publishing documents allegedly revealing the involvement of Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdul Salam in the misuse of public funds.

In another case, journalist Mona Bouazizi was ordered to appear at the Court of First Instance in Tunis on January 31st for questioning about an article she wrote in al-Chourouk on December 7th.

"The article revealed administrative corruption in the co-operative for school and university accidents (MASU)," Bouazizi said. "I was surprised to be summoned for investigation on charges of slander and damage to persons, including material and moral damages."

Meanwhile, the Military Court of Appeal last week ruled to increase the sentence of former presidential adviser Ayoub Massoudi from four months to a year of suspended prison.

Massoudi will be deprived of the right to engage in civil service, bear arms or receive decorations. He is being charged for stating that Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces President Moncef Marzouki had not been adequately informed of the extradition of al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi by Defence Minister Abdelkrim Zbidi and General Rachid Ammar.

Massoudi had considered the hiding of the decision to be "state treason" and called for an investigation.

"I am punished for my views," Massoudi added. "I think highly of the military establishment and respect it, but I called for an investigation into the circumstances of the extradition of former Libyan Minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi."

"Today, we are living a real struggle to ensure the sustainability of freedom of expression and the press, which we gained after the revolution," Neji Bghouri, the former National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) secretary-general, told Magharebia.

He added, "There are many indicators that this freedom is threatened by the government trying to control the media by applying pressure on politicians through campaigns against journalists and bloggers and all those who want to uncover the truth or speak freely through media outlets."

Recently, Immigration Secretary Houcine Jaziri was criticised on a national channel. He considered the critique to be harassment of the government and allegedly changed the timing of the show in order to decrease the number of viewers.

"I was not behind the change in the timing of one of the programs of a national channel," Jaziri responded. "We are for freedom of expression and of the press, but freedom must be responsible for the sake of the nation and in order not to disturb the public order."

The Tunisian public was divided.

"The prosecution of a journalist or a blogger because they spoke freely or uncovered corruption is a stain on every official in this government, which is supposed to be revolutionary," commented 33-year old Mourad Jemni.

Mostafa Dalleji, 54, countered, "Prosecuting those who attempt to distort the actions of the government is an obligation so the perpetrators can be used as examples for others."

"The corrupt and leftist media want to bring down this government by fabricating false charges. Therefore we must stand against the enemies of the revolution," he concluded.

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