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Tunisians protest over detained journalist


Agency Report

A Tunisian journalist detained since last week for refusing to reveal his sources to authorities is to be released, his lawyer said Friday, in a case that has raised fears for media freedoms.

Khalifa Guesmi, a correspondent for the country’s leading radio station Mosaique FM, was arrested on March 18 under anti-terrorism laws after refusing to reveal his sources for an article on the break-up of a “terrorist cell”.

He and two other Mosaique FM reporters, including editor-in-chief Houcine Dabbabi, appeared before an “anti-terrorism” court on Friday morning.

The court “decided to release Khalifa Guesmi and not to press any charges against his two colleagues,” his lawyer Rahal Jallali told AFP.

Jallali said Guesmi is still facing charges under Article 34 of the North African country’s anti-terror law, which outlaws publishing information “for the benefit of a terrorist organisation”, he said.

If convicted, the reporter could face up to 20 years in prison and a heavy fine.

On Friday morning, demonstrators had gathered outside the headquarters of Tunisia’s journalists’ union (SNJT), demanding Guesmi’s release and chanting “journalism is not a crime”

Amira Mohammed, vice president of the SNJT, said that “today the biggest fear is that we might go back to how things were before 2011”, when dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in a revolt that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

“Ten years we’ve been fighting and we will continue to fight and continue to defend the media,” she said.

Rights groups say journalists have faced growing pressures since President Kais Saied suspended parliament and seized an array of powers in July last year.

He has since moved to rule by decree and seized control of the judiciary, while repeatedly vowing to protect freedoms won by the 2011 revolution.

Less than a week after Guesmi’s arrest, plain-clothes police officers prevented two journalists from covering a protest demanding a probe into the 2018 drowning of 19-year-old football fan Omar Labidia after police allegedly forced him into a river and told him “learn to swim”.

Thameur Mekki, editor of the Nawaat website where the reporters work, told AFP they had been summoned to appear in court on April 14 but have not been informed of any charges.

Jlassi told demonstrators on Friday that the judiciary was implicated in authorities’ efforts to “silence” opposition.

“Through these practices, authorities want to send us a message: either be afraid and fall in line, or you’ll face arrest and harassment,” he said.