'We will fight for you': Families of detained Tunisian journalists plead for their release

Relatives say they cannot see a valid reason for the arrests

Hundreds of Tunisians marched through Tunis chanting as they protested against a spate of arrests under a presidential decree that critics say is being used to stifle dissent. AFP
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Tunisia’s National Journalists Union and families of detained journalists Mourad Zghidi and Chadha Hadj Mbarek called on authorities for their immediate release on Monday.

The president of the SNJT union, Zied Dabbar, said that journalists in Tunisia face a grave situation amid constant political attacks and attempts “to make them kneel down”.

“We have never imagined that we would come to the point where we have five journalists in prison and see their families compelled to visit them in prison,” Mr Dabbar said.

“At a time where the official discourse of authorities adopts the central slogans of the revolution [freedom and dignity], we are being prosecuted based on Ben Ali laws,” he said, making a reference to former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisian courts have used the 2001 Telecommunications Code – which was created under the rule Mr Ben Ali, who was ousted in 2011 – to convict some of the journalists.

Mr Ben Ali issued the legal text with the aim of striking political opponents and restricting freedom of the press.

Rachida Haj Mbarek, mother of detained journalist Chadha Hadj Mbarek, said at a press conference with other family members and union representatives on Monday that her daughter was innocent and has always been a law-abiding citizen.

“Prison is bitter for anyone let alone when someone is innocent,” she said. “My daughter is exhausted and sick as she faces such injustice … She has always considered the law as something sacred but today she finds herself in prison.”

“Imagine seeing your child crying but you cannot wipe her tears because you can only see her from behind glass.”

Chahdha Hajj Mbarek has been detained since October 2021 for charges relating to what has become known as the “Instalingo,” affair. She faces conspiracy charges against state security, disturbing public order and contempt of the office of the President.

Instalingo is a company located in the Sousse governorate and specialises in content creation and digital communication that provides services to foreign enterprises. The government accuses it of being linked to opposition party Ennahda, which is now banned from holding meetings.

A total of 46 people are involved in the case, including 12 who are currently jailed and eight more who have arrest warrants issued against them but are believed to have fled the country.

Ms Haj Mbarek, pleaded with authorities to release her daughter and end what she describes as an injustice faced by an innocent person. “Our family is afflicted by this grave ordeal and my daughter’s heart is aching for her lost pen [writing.]”

Our father’s place is among us and we will fight for him till the end, we are strong, he is strong and we assume [responsibility for] every word he has said
Yasmine Zghidi, daughter of journalist Mourad Zghidi

The family of Mourad Zghidi say that they still cannot find a valid reason for his jail sentence. “Mourad told us that he has been looking for a specific word [he said] that could be labelled as a crime,” his sister Meriem Zghidi said.

Ms Zghidi repeated calls to authorities to release her brother who she believes is innocent of all charges.

“Mourad is confident that he has not committed any crime against this country but on the contrary, he has always tried his best to serve it,” she said.

Mr Zghidi’s daughter, Yasmine Zghidi, said his entire family stands with him and every word he had said as part of his job. “Our father’s place is among us and we will fight for him till the end, we are strong, he is strong and we assume [responsibility for] every word he has said,” she said.

Veteran Tunisian journalist, Mourad Zghidi, has been detained since May 11 and has been sentenced to one year in jail after a judge convicted him of “defamation and misinformation” over critical statements he made on private radio station IFM and on social media, where he expressed solidarity with another jailed colleague, Mohamed Boughalleb.

Updated: May 28, 2024, 8:07 AM