Tunisian journalist released on bail after arrest for criticising defamation law

Several journalists and activists have been detained and questioned since President Kais Saied seized all powers in July 2021

Journalists demand greater press freedom during protest in Tunis last May. AFP
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Tunisian journalist Zied Heni was released from police custody on Thursday morning after his arrest on suspicion of ‘insulting the head of state’.

He was released on bail and is expected to face trial, although a date has not been set.

Mr Heni, who hosts a daily radio programme, was arrested for his explanation of a new decree issued by President Kais Saied last September.

The decree 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).

“I told the prosecutor today that it’s unbelievable to put someone behind bars for explaining a law,” Mr Heni told media outlets upon his release in front of the Tunis Justice Palace.

According to the law, the punishment for defamation is doubled if the target is a public official.

The decree has mostly been used to target those critical of Mr Saied, including politicians, bloggers, activists and journalists.

Before his arrest, Mr Heni devoted time on his morning radio show to explaining the text of the decree criminalising any act that might be labelled as an offence against the president.

Mr Heni's arrest is the latest incident in a broad crackdown on liberties in Tunisia. In recent months more than 20 opposition figures have been detained over "national security concerns".

Meanwhile, Mr Saied has denied all accusations relating to the erosion of freedoms in Tunisia, and accused those reporting on the situation of having ulterior motives.

Updated: June 22, 2023, 11:14 AM