Tunisian journalists jailed for 'defamation and misinformation'

Mourad Zghidi and Borhen Bsaies convicted over critical statements made in Tunisian media and Facebook posts

Journalists protest outside the Palace of Justice in Tunis during the trial of IFM radio journalists Mourad Zghidi and Borhen Bsaies. Reuters
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Prominent Tunisian journalists Mourad Zghidi and Borhen Bsaies have each been sentenced to a year in prison after being convicted of spreading misinformation and defaming others, court spokesman Mohamed Zitouna told radio station Mosaique.

The journalists, detained by prosecutors last week, had been charged after questioning over critical statements they made on private radio station IFM and social media posts.

Mr Zitouna said they published social media posts and made statements that included rumours and false news in a way that breached public order and disturbed the peace.

He denied the verdict was a restriction of freedom of the press and speech, saying such rights are guaranteed by law, but within the limits of not spreading rumours, fake news and defamation.

Zghidi was questioned about 13 media statements and a Facebook post, in which he expressed his solidarity with journalist Mohamed Boughaleb, a source told The National.

Boughaleb received a six-month prison sentence in April on similar charges.

The verdict, which was issued on late Wednesday evening, is based on Tunisia’s Decree 54, which was issued by Tunisian President Kais Saied in September 2022, against spreading false information and rumours online, with prison sentences of up to 10 years.

The decree states that anyone found to have used information networks to “promote [or] publish … false news” to harm public security and national defence could face a five-year prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 Tunisian dinars ($15,600).

Tunisian police this month raided the premises of the Tunisian Lawyers’ Bar and arrested outspoken lawyer and commentator Sonia Dahmani, after prosecutors issued a warrant over comments she made on a radio show.

Tunisian civil society organisations, including one of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize winners, the Tunisian Human Rights League, have sounded the alarm over arrests and growing restrictions on rights and freedoms in the country.

Tunisia’s National Journalists Union has called on authorities to stop restrictions on reporting and to respect the principle of freedom of press, as stipulated in the constitution and all international treaties.

Updated: May 23, 2024, 10:49 AM