Tunisian President Kais Saied has issued a decree against spreading false information and rumours online, with prison sentences of up to 10 years for those who breach the rules.
Article 24 of decree law 54, which was published in the country’s gazette on Friday, states that anyone found to have used information networks to "produce, promote, publish, transmit or prepare false news, statements, rumours or forged documents" to target the rights of others or harm public security and national defence could face a five-year prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 Tunisian dinars ($15,600).
The decree said the prison sentence could double to 10 years if the intended victim was a public official.
Journalists have raised concerns about the effect the decree could have on freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
“What is the guarantee for journalists who report government misconduct that they will not be subjected to accusations of spreading defamatory discourse or hate speech following this decree?” Rym Chaabani, an independent Tunisian journalist, told The National.
She said that although it was essential to tackle cyber crimes such as defamation and online violence, laws to regulate cyberspace needed to be more thorough and precise.
“The decree is a loose text par excellence and it opens the door to restrictions,” she said.
There was no immediate response from the Tunisian National Journalists Union, which voiced concerns in May about growing restrictions on journalists since Mr Saied dismissed the government and expanded presidential powers in July last year.
Gaining access to information was more difficult and the harassment and detention of journalists in connection with their work had increased, the union said in a report released on International Press Freedom Day.