Tunisia: ARTICLE 19 demands the release of the blogger Yassine Ayari

ARTICLE 19 denounces the conviction of the blogger Yassine Ayari, sentenced to one year of prison by military justice because of the publication on social media of statements considered to be defamatory for the Tunisian national army.

ARTICLE 19 demands the annulment of the conviction and the immediate release of the blogger.

“This conviction represents a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of speech which is protected by the Constitution of 27 January 2014 and by international Law. Nobody should be in prison for criticising state institutions”, declared Saloua Ghazouani, director of ARTICLE 19’s Tunisia office.

ARTICLE 19 notes that criminal defamation represents a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which has been ratified by Tunisia. International regulations on freedom of speech clearly establish that criticism of military and security institutions is part of freedom of speech and public debate and cannot be prohibited.

Likewise, the UN Human Rights Committee has said time and again that the application of criminal Law should be circumscribed to the most serious cases of defamation and that imprisonment is never a suitable punishment. The Committee has also called for the states that are party to ICCPR to decriminalise defamation.

“It is particularly disturbing that military courts continue to pass judgments regarding defamation on the basis of the military code of justice; only civil courts should be authorised to rule on these types of matters pursuant to decree law 115-2011”, continued Saloua Ghazouani.

“Defamation must be fully decriminalised in Tunisia, and any criminal provisions that are in contradiction with decree law 115 and remain applicable in matters of defamation must be repealed”, she added.

It should be recalled that Yassine Ayari published on social media criticism in which he accused senior military officers of financial and administrative abuse and he criticised the Defence Minister for having left military posts unfilled.

Last 18 November, a military court sentenced him in absentia to three years of prison for defamation and for harming the dignity, reputation and morale of the army. He was arrested on 24 December 2014 when arriving at the airport of Tunisia-Carthage and incarcerated in the civil prison of Mornaguia. After his opposition to that judgment, Yassine Ayari was interrogated on 12 January 2015 and on 20 January he was sentenced to a firm conviction of one year in prison.